Category Archives: Uncategorized

Close up of finish Close Encounter panel 2., artwork by Lea McComas

New Work: Chance Encounter

This new work is based on a chance encounter between a mountain lion and my husband at the end of our driveway. Today I’m sharing a bit about my design process and the tools I use in creating a composition. If you want to learn more about my process, stay tuned to future blog posts, and sign up for my Color & Composition class. 


This new work is based on a chance encounter between a mountain lion and my husband, Jim. It took place at the end of our driveway. Luckily, Jim was in a vehicle where he could snap a few photos. Here are the ones I chose for the Chance Encounter series.

Editing the Images

I initially decided that I would capture the chance encounter with a series of 4 panels. Photoshop Elements, I cropped and resized the images then used the grayscale and posterize features to create images that I could print on paper and create my patterns.

In the crop and resize phase, I kept 2 goals in mind. First, each panel would increase in width as the lion slowly exposed more of himself before coming into full view. It was important to have an element that was consistent throughout to support the idea that the viewer was looking at the same place with expanding vision. The large rock was that element. I cropped to place it along the left edge of the first 3 photos photo, and extended the right edge as the panels increased. The fourth photo did not include the rock, but I plan to add that feature into panel 4.

Here are a couple of the cropped images:









Using the Golden Ratio for Balance & Consistency

Second, I sought to apply the golden ratio (1:1.618) to create balance and consistency. It was the basis for determining the dimensions of each panel. ALERT: I’m about to take you through my math calculations. I hope you enjoy the process as much as I do. After deciding the series would be 30 inches tall, so I used my golden mean calipers to divide that distance into 2 smaller measures: 11 1/2″ and 18 1/2″. These are the widths panels 1and 2. Then, it was a matter of multiplying 18 1/2 x 1.618 to get 30, the width of panel 3. I repeated the process (30 x 1.618= 48) to get the width of panel 4. In this way, the increasing widths follow a pattern that is pleasing to the eye.

Using the Golden Ratio for Placement of Elements

Another application of the golden ratio was in the placement of elements within each composition. For this explanation, I’m going to convert the golden ratio to a pair of fractions: 3/8 and 5/8. In my photo editing software, when using the crop tool, a grid appears over the image, dividing it into exact thirds vertically and horizontally. It looks like a tic-tac-toe grid, and is a guide for using the Rule of Thirds in creating a composition. This is a simplified vers

ion of the golden ratio. However, I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to the golden ratio, so I visualize the lines a little closer, creating a center section that is slightly narrower than the outer sections. I then crop to try to place key elements along these lines, and at the points of intersection. Here is what it looked like with panel 1. Note the top of the rock, and the eyes of the lion.

The important thing in this phase was to create a series of compositions where each was an extension of the previous. Eventually, I decided that the first 3 panels could hang together and tell the story in a reasonable space. Including the 4th panel, 48 inches wide, would have increased the overall width of the Close Encounter series to 108 inches, plus space between the panels. It was just too much. Really, where would I hope to hang the series so it could be viewed in its entirety? This chance encounter was beginning to feel like a long, drawn out encounter. Besides, the 4th image wasn’t essential to the story as the lion running off was implied in the 3rd panel.


Next, I convert each image to grayscale mode so that I can impose my own color scheme (more on that in a future post). Sometimes, elements of similar value begin to blend together, so I use the pencil tool to draw in important lines that have disappeared. In this case, I needed to outline the mountain lion to keep him separate from the rock and the foliage. Because they were darker values, I used a white line. However, sometimes, a black line is more effective.





Finally, I posterize each image. I like to work with 5 values in the key figures, in this case, the mountain lion. With the very light snow background, and the very dark sticks and branches, the lion is largely mid-values. This means that I have to posterize the images at 7-8 values to get 5 values in the lion. When I refer to value levels, 1 is always the lightest value, or white. Levels get progressively darker as the number increases. The number assigned to the darkest value, black changes. For example, If I’m working in 5 values, then 5 is black. However, if I’m working in 8 values, then 8 is black. In the image below, there are 8 values, but the face of the lion appears in values 3-7.

Later, when I’m choosing fabrics for the lion, I’ll be able to expand the range of these “face” values to give the lion more depth and dimension, and enhance him as a focal point. Look for that in a future post.

Color & Composition Course

Also, consider joining my Color & Composition class. This class will run for 6 months with a monthly online meeting where we take an in-depth look at a color scheme, color concept, and a composition concept. Participants are encouraged to go out and use the information in their own work, and bring their progress back to share with the group in the next monthly meeting. to help you in your original design Here is a link for more information:

Color & Composition I



Sandra Day O’Connor: 1st Female Supreme Court Justice

Full vioew of the Women's Work quilt

Celebrating women’s struggle for equality and the right to vote.

Sandra Day O’Connor (1930- 2023) the first female U.S. Supreme Court justice.

Justice O’Connor is one of the 57 women featured on my Women’s Work quilt. She is shown breaking the glass ceiling with her gavel. 

Humble Beginnings

Justice O'Connor breaking the glass ceiling with her gavel

Justice O’Connor breaks the glass ceiling with her gavel.

Sandra Day was born in El Paso, Texas. Growing up on a large cattle ranch, miles from the nearest paved road, with no running water or electricity, she learned to be resourceful and self-reliant. Despite these challenges, Sandra was an excellent student and was accepted into Stanford University at age 16. She graduated magna cum laude with a degree in economics in 1950 and a law degree in 1952. She also served on the Stanford Law Review under editor-in-chief and future Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist. They dated briefly and Rehnquist proposed marriage. Instead, Sandra married fellow law student, John Jay O’Connor III.

After graduation, the O’Connors settled in California where, despite her academic achievements, Sandra was unable to find work. No firm would hire a female attorney. Eventually, she worked in San Mateo as a deputy county attorney where she shared office space with a secretary and worked for no salary. When her husband was drafted and sent to Germany in 1954, she accompanied him. There, she served as a civilian attorney for the Army Quartermaster Corps.

In 1957, the couple moved to Arizona, and Sandra took a break from practicing law to raise three sons. She was active in several political organizations and became the state’s attorney general. Later, she served in the state Senate, gaining power in this position to become the majority leader in 1973, the first female to hold this position in any state legislature.

Climbing the Judicial Ladder

In 1979, Sandra returned to the courtroom as a superior court judge and worked her way up to the Arizona State Court of Appeals. Two years later, Ronald Reagan appointed her as the first female Supreme Court justice. Her confirmation hearing was the first televised for a Supreme Court justice. After three days, the US Senate unanimously confirmed her appointment. As the first female Supreme Court justice, O’Connor understood the importance of proving that a woman could do the job well. She was known for meticulous research, practical decision-making, and building collegiality. She initiated the practice that all justices eat lunch together, a custom that continues today. There were some very practical challenges for the first female justice: at the time of her appointment, there was no women’s restroom near the courtroom.

Throughout her career, Justice O’Connor’s faced praise and criticism for her decisions. Most notably, she ruled against gerrymandering in a case where lines were clearly drawn based on race. She refused to overturn Roe vs. Wade but did decide favorably in many cases that limited access to abortion. Her most controversial decision involved the presidential election of 2000 in Bush vs. Gore. She was the swing vote that stopped the recount of votes in Florida, thus giving the election to George W. Bush. Years later, she expressed her regrets that the court had agreed to hear the case.

Retired, but Active

Justice O’Connor retired in 2005, but remained outspoken about the need for an independent judiciary functioning as a check on other branches of government rather than a legislative tool used by political parties. She founded the O’Connor Institute to promote democracy through civil debate, problem solving through consensus, and participation of all citizens in the democratic process.

Learn about more amazing women

Cover of book, Women's Work shows partial view of the quilt.

Women’s Work: Stories of Courage & Commitment in the Struggle for Equality

Women’s Work, the book, tells the stories of all of the amazing women featured on the Women’s Work quilt. 



Dolores Huerta on Women’s Work

Find Dolores Huerta (1930-    )  Women’s Work standing on the upper level holding a sign that says “HUELGA” (Strike).  She is chosen for her efforts to improve the horrible conditions of farm workers in America, and her work to organize grass roots activism in communities that struggle. Today, in her 90’s, she continues to fight and organize.

Activism in her DNA

Dolores Huerta was born in a small mining town in New Mexico in 1930.  At 3 years old, her parents divorced and she moved to Stockton, California with her mother and two brothers.  Her father, Juan Hernandez, worked as a miner, a farm worker, and was a union activist. Dolores had little contact with her father after she moved to California, but she too, would become a force for worker’s rights.  Dolores credits Alicia, her mother, for teaching her to fight for others.  Involved in community and church organizations, Alicia was known to be kind, and fair to all in her business and community interactions.

Early Activism

As a teenager, Dolores was active in many school clubs and groups, and she was a girl scout through high school. After graduation, she earned a provisional teaching license from the local community college and began teaching elementary school in Stockton.  In the classroom, her heart broke for the poor children of farm workers who came to school barefoot and with empty stomachs.  At the time, field hands worked from sun up to sundown without a break, access to cool water, or toilets.  For this, most earned a wage of only 70 cents hour.

Inspired to address the economic injustices of the agricultural industry, Dolores became an activist organizer.  She joined the local Community Service Organization (CSO) and started the Agricultural Workers Association.  She helped to organize voter registration drives, and campaigned for local legislation to improve the lives of local farm workers.  It was in the CSO in 1955 that Dolores met César Chávez, and discovered a shared interest in improving conditions of farm workers.  Together, they quit the CSO, and founded the United Farm Workers’ Union (UFW) in 1962.  By the end of 1963, Dolores’ had successfully lobbied the State of California to obtain disability insurance and aid for families of farm work.  This was a first law of its kind in the US. 

Power Through Action

From the beginning, Dolores knew that the farm workers did not have the money to fight for

UFW poster to promote boycott of grapes

Boycott Poster

laws to protect them.  She realized that they had power through action, so she organized boycotts, voter registration, and grass roots campaign events.  Inspired by Gandhi’s Salt Boycott in the 1930, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the 1950’s, the UFW organized the Delano Grape Strike.  It lasted from 1965-1970.  During this time, Latino and Filipino farm workers joined forces.  They refused to harvest grapes in protest of unbearable working conditions. Strikers walked 300 miles to protest at the state capital.  Other unions, churches, and civil rights groups gave them their support. Eventually, more than 17 million people boycotted grapes and wine from California.

Non-Violent in the Face of Violence

The UFW organized the strike with a strong emphasis on non-violence, knowing that support would disappear if the workers were seen as aggressors.  Grape growers had money and political power on their side.  They had local police and goons hired by the Teamsters Union attack workers on the picket lines.  The police attacked Dolores and they broke three of her ribs and ruptured her spleen.  She spent months recovering.

The strike was long and difficult for workers.  Frustrated, many advocated for violence to achieve their goals, but César and Dolores were determined that the movement remain non-violent. In the end, the table grape growers signed a contract that guaranteed better pay, benefits, and protections for farm workers.  Dolores continued the work and helped pass the Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975. This law allowed farm workers to unionize and bargain for better wages and working conditions; another first in the US.

Si Se Pueda!

The UFW organized similar strikes in other farming areas.  In 1972, the Arizona legislature passed a law to prevent farm workers from organizing and

poster shows women farm workers wearing hats and bandanas over nose and mouth to protect from sun and chemicals. Image of Dolores Huerta holding sign to strike superimposed in background. Border reads, "Women's Work is Never Done"

Broccoli Harvest Strike Poster

striking, as they had done in California.  Dolores and César went to Arizona to help fight this statute.  Over and over, their challenge to locals to unite and fight was answered with “no se puede,” –No, it can’t be done.  Finally, Dolores responded, “Si, si se puede!” (“Yes, yes, it can be done”), and this became the rallying cry for workers in Arizona.  Later, Barack Obama used this phrase in his campaign for president.  At first, he gave credit for the slogan to César Chávez, but later he apologized, and corrected this mistake in the ceremony where he presented Dolores with the Presidential Medal of Honor.

Feminist Inspiration

Dolores was constant, and outspoken in her fight for worker’s rights.  She stood toe-to-toe with men, refusing to back down.  Even though it was not her goal, she became an inspiration to  women across the nation who were also fighting discrimination.  During the grape boycott, Dolores met Gloria Steinem, and she found another kindred spirit.  Moving forward, Dolores broadened her focus to address equal rights for women, along with worker’s rights.

The Work Never Ends

Dolores actively campaigned for people she believed would help her causes. A supporter of Robert Kennedy,  when he was shot and killed in Los Angeles, she was only steps away.   She fought against the use of pesticides that were poisoning farm workers.  Most recently, she fought the Trump administration roll back of pesticide restrictions.  

At age 90, Delores continues the work she started in her 20’s.  Today her work is carried out through the Dolores Huerta Foundation, and non-profit with a mission to inspire and organize communities to build volunteer organizations empowered to pursue social justice. 

Dolores seeks to plant seeds of activism in poor and working class communities by personally meeting with families in their homes to talk about the importance of voting and civic involvement.  She believes that this approach, while labor intensive, will change the path of families for generations to come.

(add photo of migrant protester in DC)

A 2017 film titled Dolores: Rebel, Activist, Feminist, Mother, tells the story of her life and work.

My Take Away…

Discuss coming out from the shadows of men

See the Women’s Work Quilt

See Ida B Wells on Women’s Work in person. This quilt will debut as a featured work in the exhibit Women’s Voices, Women’s Votes, Women’s Rights, at the Clinton Presidential Library, in September 2021.  Look for more details on the Events page of this website. Follow this blog for more stories of amazing women. Follow this link to see more of Lea’s Portrait Quilts.

Shirley Chisolm fabric portrait from Women's Work quilt, front view, wearing lime green dress.

Shirley Chisholm on Women’s Work

Shirley Chisolm fabric portrait from Women's Work quilt, front view, wearing lime green dress, walking down stairs among protestors and legislators

Shirley Chisholm on Women’s Work

Shirley Chisholm(1924-2005) on WOMEN’S WORK, is located at the bottom of the stairs,  wearing a lime green dress.  She is situated between legislators and demonstrators marching forward down the stairs.  Shirley, known as a courageous, and tireless champion for the poor and working class, is famous as the first black woman to serve in Congress.  She was also the first black female presidential candidate from a majority political party. 

Fierce Advocate

Born Shirley Anita St Hill on November  30, 1924 to  Caribbean Immigrants from British Guyana and Barbados, her father was a factory laborer, and her mother was a domestic worker and seamstress.  The family lived in the Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Believing it would provide a safer environment, Shirley’s parents sent her and three younger sisters to live with their grandmother on the island of Barbados. The girls lived there for about 7 years.  Shirley attributes much of her success to the early education she received in the traditional British school system of Barbados.  Upon her return to New York City at the age of 10, she performed well in the integrated, but mostly white classrooms.  

After high school, Shirley earned a Bachelor of Arts at Brooklyn College where she also won awards for debate.  Then, she worked in an early child care center, married Conrad Chisholm, and earned her Masters in Elementary Education from Columbia University. She worked her way up to director of the Hamilton-Madison Child Care Center in the 1950’s, and became an educational consultant to New York City’s Bureau of Child Welfare from 1959 to 1964. 

Shirley learned to fight for social justice in her teens from her father who was an active member of a labor trade union.  Her confidence, speaking skills, and grit made her an effective advocate for civil rights, women’s rights, and workers rights.  She was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1965, and became the first black woman elected to the US House of Representatives in 1968.  She served her constituents as a fierce, and vocal legislator. 

Unbossed & Unbought

Shirley’s campaign slogan, “Unbossed and Unbought,” was an apt description.  At first, Shirley

was appointed to the Agriculture Committee.  This was the result of efforts by Southern

congressmen to put her in a place where she would have little influence or power.  Angered, she waged a campaign to be reassigned.  This was unheard-of since freshmen representatives were expected to follow the rules without complaint.  In the end, Shirley got her way, but not before she found a silver lining in agriculture.  In the late 1960’s farmers in the midwest had surplus food that they couldn’t sell.  Shirley teamed with Senator Bob Dole from Kansas and, together, they started what would become the Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to provide food supplements to at-risk women and their infants.

Long desk with 3 black male legislators and Shirley Chisholm sitting behind

Congressional Black Caucus.

During her seven terms in Congress, Shirley successfully helped pass numerous pieces of legislation that gave voice and power to those who were ignored by the government.  She opposed the VietNam War and fought to reduce military spending in favor of increasing funds for domestic social programs. She pushed through legislation that expanded funding for day care and education, and expanded minimum wage protections for domestic workers. In support of women, Shirley hired only females to work in her congressional office, and half of her staff were black.

Presidential Run

Finally, in 1972, Shirley decided to run for President as the Democratic candidate. She became

campaign poster with words Vote for Chisholm, Unbossed and Unbought. Shows image of Shirley Chisholm speaking

Campaign Poster

the first black candidate from a major party, and the first woman Democratic party candidate.  A major obstacle for her campaign, were the black male colleagues within the party.  Shirley claimed that she faced more discrimination for being a woman, than for being black. Winning the nomination was a long shot, but, Shirley hoped to amass enough support to be able to influence the party platform. She planned to demand a black vice-presidential candidate, and insist on diversity in cabinet, and agency appointments.

Shirley invited all to “Join me on the Chisholm Trail” as she campaigned across the country on a shoe-string budget, and heavy reliance on volunteers. Her policy positions included support for:

  • Anti-poverty legislation

    Shirley Chisholm behind lecture, speaking at convention

    Shirley speak at Democratic Nat’l Convention

  • Ending the VietNam war
  • Abortion rights
  • Gay rights
  • National health insurance
  • Legalization of marijuana
  • Fair housing laws
  • Busing as a temporary means to desegregate schools

Shirley built a broad coalition of supporters, but, she did not win the nomination. She did, however, come in 4th in a field of 15 candidates at the Democratic Convention.  She inspired women worldwide, and was voted as one of the 10 most admired women in the world.  After the election, Shirley returned to Congress where she served another 10 years.  In retirement, she remained involved in many political organizations, spoke at colleges to encourage student activism, and continued to fight for women’s rights.  

What about those demands at the convention…

In her run for president, Shirley hoped to gain the clout to demand a black vice presidential running mate, and diversity in cabinet and agency appointments.  That was in 1972.  Not until the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in 2020, nearly 50 years later, did those demands became a reality.  At the inauguration ceremony, Harris wore purple as a tribute to Shirley Chisholm whose campaign colors were purple and yellow.

My take away…

The pace of equality is much too slow.  In researching Shirley Chisholm, I must confront the question, “What are you doing about it?”.

As a high school teacher, I work with many students from marginalized groups: young women and children of immigrants.  They often do not have a family history of education or activism, so, I try to plant those seeds.  I challenge students to be the first in their families to graduate from high school, to set a goal of attending college, and to register to vote. These steps can change the path of an entire family for years to come.

girl standing, inserting ballot into collection box outside in snow storm

1st Time Voting

In the 2020 election, a former student contacted me because she wanted to vote.  She didn’t know how, and no one she knew had ever voted in a US election.  Over the phone, I talked her through the registration process.  When her ballot arrived, I explained each of the issues, and shared a booklet from the state voting commission with more information.  After talking her through marking and sealing her ballot, I drove her to the drop-off site and told her, “Next time, bring two friends and we’ll do this again.”

See the Women’s Work Quilt

See Ida B Wells on Women’s Work in person. This quilt will debut as a featured work in the exhibit Women’s Voices, Women’s Votes, Women’s Rights, at the Clinton Presidential Library, in September 2021.  Look for more details on the Events page of this website. Follow this blog for more stories of amazing women. Follow this link to see more of Lea’s Portrait Quilts.

Learn More About Shirley Chisholm…

Michals, Debra.  “Shirley Chisholm.”  National Women’s History Museum.  2015. 

History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives, ““Catalyst for Change”: The 1972 Presidential Campaign of Representative Shirley Chisholm,” 30, 2021)

Shirley Chisholm: First African American Congresswoman (March 31, 2020).  Timeline-World History Documentaries.

Shirley Chisholm Biography, Encyclopedia of World Biography, (January 30, 2021).

Dovid Zaklikowsk (January 20, 2021)  Turning Disappointment Into Food for the Hungry. The Editors (December 10, 2020). Shirley Chisholm. A&E Television Networks.


Color Temperature

Color Temperature: Fabric Fever is Cause for Concern

Can color temperature indicate the health of your quilt? These days, having a fever is cause for concern. Staying home and

Does you fabric have a temperature?

away from others gives me more time with my fabric, where temperature has also been on my mind. It was a topic in my monthly Color & Composition class.  Read on for a summary of our discussion and learn how you can join us next month.

Color Temperature:  What is Warm? What is Cool?

The exact dividing line between warm & cool colors has been an open topic for centuries.

various versions of color temperature

What is your preference?

Your preference likely depends on your medium: a digital graphic artist lives in a different color world than a fiber art quilter.  Here is what I work with…

my take on color temperature

Here are my play groups for warm and cool colors.

I also think of red and green as temperature neutral.  They can function with either play group, but will be the coolest kids in the warm group, and the hottest kids in the cool group.

color temperature - warm

What’s cool in the warm group?

color temperature - cool

What is warm in this cool group?

How Color Temperature is a Tool?

It’s a fact that warm colors advance and cool colors recede!  In a composition, we can create a sense of depth using temperature.  Warm colors will seem closer to us and cool colors will fall to the background.  Or do they?  Do we know this because someone told us, or because we have experienced it?  I say, “You don’t really own that knowledge until you test it out.”  

So, I created a series of simple compositions of a box on a background.  These are only  8 x10 inches, easy to make, and keep on hand for future reference.

Color Temperature: Warm vs Cool – Round 1

First, here is a box in a warm color sitting on a cool color background. 

Does the box visually pop off the surface?

Now, here is the reverse: a cool color box on a warm color background.

What about this box?

If the concept holds true, the first version should appear to have more depth, and the background should fight for dominance in the second.  What do you think?

Color Temperature:  Warm vs Cool – Round 2

In my next experiment, I pitted warm and cool colors against each other in the same composition.  Using a temperature neutral color green for the back ground, I put a large and small box together in the composition.  Size will indicate to the viewer that the larger box is closer, but, how does color temperature amplify, or mute that message?  


Warm vs Cool in Pictorial Quilts

These examples are very dramatic, but the concept can be used in more subtle ways.  Color temperature is relative.  Even within the “Warm” or “Cool” color play groups, each color will appear warmer, or cooler depending on what color plays next to it.  For example, orange is cooler than yellow, but warmer than red.  Also, blue is cooler than green, but warmer than violet. 

I use this concept in all of my work.  Look through my genre and portrait galleries to see how warm tones advance from the cooler backgrounds.  When more than one person is included in a composition, I employ subtle temperature changes in flesh tones to make one figure more prominent, or appear closer than another. 

Which figure has the warmer complexion?

How does temperature amplify depth in this piece?

Experience is the Best Teacher

Now, if you really want to own knowledge of this concept, you need to conduct your own experiences.  It can be a simple as cutting out some circles of various sizes and colors, and then experiment with placing those circles on different backgrounds.  You don’t even need to fix them permanently.  Try one version, take a photo, rearrange, and take another photo.

If you try this, share a photo of your experiment with me:

Learn More About Color Concepts

Every month, I teach an online Color & Composition class through the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum.  We meet via Zoom on the 4th Saturday of every month from 1:00-3:00 (Mountain Time zone).  Each meeting is a chance to explore a color concept, a color scheme, and a composition concept.  Come every month, or participate when you can.  The cost is $20/ session. Click this link to join us.

Here is what we’ll be exploring at our next meeting on January 23:

Color Concept: Creating Depth

Color Scheme: Analogous

Composition Concept: Variety & Unity

Sign up for the next Color & Composition class with Lea McComas


Fused Applique Portrait Class

My Fused Applique Portrait class at CraftU begins March 7. There is still time to sign up. Here’s a link if you are interested:

Fused Raw-Edge Applique Portraits

 Here are some samples of portraits done with this technique:

portrait-Jim Lea applique portrait


Is Your Face in the Right Place?

I’ve just finished a new piece titled “Simple Pleasures”.  It features a young boy named Indigo who is celebrating his 6th birthday and is thrilled with his new plastic horse.  How wonderful to find such pleasure in something that has no bells, whistles, screens, login, or even batteries.

In this weeks video, I show you how to check the size, location, and dimensions of facial features so that the face looks realistic and well proportioned.

Golden Mean Calipers Pt 3: Facial Features

This piece was a chance for me to try a bolder color scheme.  I like the energy and vibrancy of it. Below are process photos to show how the piece came together.

Face and Hands

Face and Hands

Shirt and shorts

Shirt and shorts

Horse in Hands

Horse in Hands

Thread-painted face

Thread-painted face

Finished piece

Finished piece




The Tale of a Tail

Too Much Tail

The tail is too big for the longer frame.

A you may recall, when I first loaded both of the horsemen panels on the longarm frame, the tail of the right panel hung off the edge.  At the time, I chose to ignore this and deal with it another day.  That day came.

The beginning of the solution involved removing both panels and reloading them one at a time.  This move actually solved two problems.  Thread painting the first horse caused that panel to draw up, in turn, making the second panel too loose on the frame.  The initial reason for loading both panels at the same time was so that the backgrounds could be stitched together, creating some continuity across both panels.  With that done, it is now obvious that that the panels will be completed one at a time.

With the second panel off the frame, I add extensions to the backing and batting.  When it is reloaded, I use clamps to hold that extension tight and in place while the stitching is completed. (sorry, forgot total a photo)

Boning to stiffen the tail

Boning to stiffen the tail

The next problem to be addressed is how to keep the tail from curling back or flopping forward when it is on display.  That solution comes from the notions department of my local fabric store:  polyester boning, typically used to give shape to a dress bodice.

This piece was finished with an artists facing, rather than a binding.  A strip of the boning was stitched into the bottom edge of the tail extension, then covered with the facing.  This seems sufficient to keep it in place.

Horse tail finished.

Horse tail finished.

Cover up with facing

Cover up with facing


“No” to the Nose

original nose

Original photo

When I thread paint, I rely on the thread to do the bulk of the work.  My technique allows me to blend colors and create subtle shading and contours, as if I were working with paint. In my process I find that there is an OTZ (Optimum Thread Zone).  Stitching below the zone creates what I consider dense quilting, and stitching above the zone overloads the fabric and causes it to expand and buckle.

With this in mind, I consider the facelift that is needed by my horse. As mentioned last week, the shape of the nose needs some adjusting.  However, having applied heavy stitching to the face already, there is a limited amount of thread that can be added without exceeding the OTZ. This means I need to get it right, right away.

In the original photo, the horse is moving his head as the photo is snapped, so it is blurred and doesn’t provide the details that I need.  It is off to the internet to find images of horse heads that face the right direction, at a similar angle, and in the right light.  I also look to reference books of paintings done by several Western artists.

sketch of nose on plastic sheet

sketch of nose on plastic sheet



Next, I place a clear plastic sheet over the face of my horse and outline its shape and key lines with a red marker.  That sheet is then set on a white background where  black lines  indicate where stitching is to be added or changed.  In this way, I can audition the additional stitching, erase, and redo as needed until it’s right.






Back at the longarm frame, I keep this plastic sheet handy and begin the facelift.  In addition to creating a more boxy snout, highlights were added around the nostril and above the eye to give them more depth.

Facelift results

Facelift results

First Face

First Face



A Horse of Course

I’ve been away from the blog for a while, but, as you might have guessed, progress did continue on the horseman.  In my race to finish it in time to submit to the Houston quilt competition, all available resources were diverted to making progress on this piece.  I did take some photos along the way and will share that progress with you in my next few blog posts.

Shiny and dull threads for this horse

Shiny and dull threads for this horse

This week, let’s focus on the stitching of the first horse.

I selected a variety of threads in the full value range.  This first horse is pretty dark, and if I think about what the horse would look like in real life, my thread choices would fall in the medium to dark range.  My analytical brain has to take over to pick the very lightest threads.  Because this horse is standing in water,  a selection of threads with dull and shiny finishes were chosen to differentiate between the wet and dry parts of the horse.

Often, stitching begins with the lightest threads, working toward the dark areas, but this time, I did the opposite. I can’t say why with certainty.  Perhaps it’s because the dark threads will complete most of the stitching and the lighter threads will add the finishing touches.  The first step is to make some broad, sweeping stitch lines to hold things in place.  That is followed by several passes, filling in more and more each time.

These photos show how the work progressed.

Stitching horse 0

Stitching horse 1

Stitching horse 2

stitching horse 3

While working up close, it’s hard to fully appreciate what is happening.  I have to rely on

Reference photo on the computer

Reference photo on the computer

what I know should work as I’m stitching.  I also keep my laptop near by with a reference photo on display.  It is always such a treat to step back and look at the work and be able to appreciate that it has come together as planned.  Sometimes, it’s even better, like the stitching along the neck of this horse.  That’s when I smile, pat myself on the back, and say, “Lea, you’ve done well.  You should have some chocolate.”

After a cup of tea and a few Thin Mint cookies, I had to admit that I was not thrilled with the nose.  More on that next week…