The Point of Pets

“Golden Temple of the Good Girls”: Pets are more than animals—they’re family.

Animal lover.

If I were to sign up for online dating (don’t worry, dear!), those two words might come first in my profile.

Non-animal-lovers need not respond. If you are bothered by cat hair, have never kissed your dog on the lips, or haven’t waited for the bird droppings to dry before scraping them off your sweater, we won’t have much to talk about.

I exaggerate—but not much.

“Dixie Dingo Dreaming,” my Pippin girl

I’ve been creating quilts of animals for years, but none are dearer to me than those of my pets. The quilt of my dog, Pippin, called “Dixie Dingo Dreaming,” was the first major piece I made of a pet. I never made one before then because I was creating quilts to sell, and selling a quilt of a pet was weird for a couple reasons: first, who would want a portrait of another person’s pet? And second, I just would never want to part with it anyway.

Eventually, though, I decided I would make the quilts I wanted to make and to heck with selling them. That freed me up to do a quilt of Pippin.

And I’m very glad I did.

“Dixie Dingo Dreaming” was completed two years before Pippin suddenly got sick and passed away. Looking back, I realize that I have a very different feeling about the quilt because I made it before she died. Instead of a memorial of her death, I see it as an appreciation of her life.

Pippin didn’t know and undoubtedly didn’t care what a star she would become.

This realization encouraged me not to wait to make a quilt of our other pets, which I ultimately entitled “Golden Temple of the Good Girls” (above). At the time, we had a budgie, a dog, and a cat. The bird, Kiiora, had been around the longest, since 2007. The mini-Schnauzer, Kali, had come home with me from Kalispell, MT, a year earlier. The tabby, Djinni, had been recently adopted from the local Humane Society.

I’m always collecting fabric for this project or that. In fact, I’ve been collecting fabric for our first dogs, Daisy and Hassan, and I’m just starting to feel ready to work on them, though they’ve been gone for more than 12 years.

Someday our first and still-missed dogs, Hassan and Daisy, will get their own quilt.

So, after seven years with Kiiora, I’d known that someday I’d make a quilt of her. I’d collected lots of fabrics in greens and yellows, and also dinosaur print fabrics. I found the thought of a T-Rex being the ancestor of our little budgie very amusing.

Kiiorasaurus! As I was piecing Kiiora, I slipped in some dinosaur print fabrics. Also, the center highlight of her eye came from the yellow eye of the tyrannosaurus print. 

But the other two pets were new enough to our family that I hadn’t yet collected any fabrics specifically for their portraits. I had no idea what their quilts might look like. But I had some time free from teaching. I had started “Crocodylus Smylus” (aka Stevie) but there was not yet any deadline for that, and I was feeling a little stuck on her anyway.

More important, having just lost both Pippin and two months before her, our cat Max, I was very aware that our pets’ time with us is way too short. Keeping in mind how happy I was that I’d done Pippin’s portrait before she passed, I looked at the three we still had and said, I’m going to do them right now.

So I hung a new foundation fabric over Stevie and got started gluing.

Since I hadn’t been thinking about and preparing for this quilt for years, I didn’t have a picture of it in my head. It occurred to me pretty early on to combine them into one quilt. But how? They aren’t necessarily best buddies. They don’t hang out or play together. Pretty sure the cat would eat the bird without a twinge of conscience and she disdains the dog. They needed to be separated somehow, yet combined.

I also considered how precious pets are to us as a society. There’s so much people are willing to do for pets. In fact, many of us elevate our pets nearly to the point of sainthood. In our family, the older we get and the more animals we say goodbye to, the more lenient we are with the ones we have. The three little girls we had then and still have are treated as little princesses.

The idea of enshrining them, putting them on their own golden pedestals seemed to fit the thoughts and sentiments that I had when I considered their importance to me. So I decided on an arabesque temple. I love that onion-dome architecture. Tiles and curved arches came to mind. The surrounding structure of the portrait started to come together.

Then I had to find photos of each. What kind of poses fit their personalities? The dog sitting, waiting for us to play with her. The cat lounging. The bird poised and alert.

Since I’ve covered how I chose the photos for this piece (“From Photo to Fabric: Choose the Best Shot”) and how each portrait advanced differently (“Bird by Bird: How I use a Book on Writing to Teach Fabric Collage”), I’ll let you refer back to those posts.

I will point out one interesting challenge I had when creating this piece. How would I deal with the white on both Kali and Djinni? Kiiora was easy. Her bright plumage made my work relatively simple. But how do you give depth and form to white? Besides, I don’t think I own any white fabrics.

The solution was to not use white, as such, but to use light values of other colors to indicate shadows. Oil and watercolor painters will tell you there’s no such thing as a “gray” shadow anyway. They always reflect color. For Kali I chose blue as her color. For Djinni it was purple and pink.

I used shades of pink instead of white to give form to Djinni’s bib and legs.

For those of you who have read my post “Why Color Is Irrelevant,” you’ll understand how a good grasp of value opens up your choice of colors.

Felix, our newest pet, wonders when he’ll get his quilt.

Lots of my students choose to do portraits of their pets. They make great subject matter. The love that these people have for their animals shines through. And that’s exactly the point of pets. They aren’t models or subjects for art primarily. We keep pets in order to love them and to have them love us back.



18 thoughts on “The Point of Pets

  1. Susan, Your love for animals shines through your work. It is inspiring to read the story behind the design of this particular quilt. Thank you for sharing so freely!
    P.S. Just learned I will be in your Asilomar class next year, Session1!!! I love Montetey and look forward to the opportunity to learn from you.


  2. Lucky Juliet! You will love Asilomar.
    I have several of your books, Susan, and have tried your fish and a few others. Fun but frustrating too. Must take your class in Portland next spring, I hope!



  3. Thank you for that wonderful article. It touched me deeply. After having pets most of my life including our two beloved boys who are now 10 and 11, I couldn’t agree more with you. They are so much a part of us.


  4. The portraits of your pets are breathtaking. Thank you for creating these beautiful quilts and sharing them with us.


  5. “Looking back, I realize that I have a very different feeling about the quilt because I made it before she died. Instead of a memorial of her death, I see it as an appreciation of her life.”

    I couldn’t agree more and such a lovely way to say it. I took your class is Kalispell and did my dog/son “Ben”. He just passed and I have the quilt that he would lay in front of my easel as I was finishing it, as though he was making sure I was getting him just right !!!
    Thank-you for your contribution in my Ben quilt. We started with his eyes so I could feel him.


  6. Susan, I am also in your Session one at Asilomar. Juliet and I are roommates. I am already sorting my scraps and prints by color. I just have to decide if I want to drive my scraps or stuff them in a suitcase! HA!


  7. I knew I would like you, even though we have never met, from the moment I saw your work, bought your dinasaur shopping bag and seen your quilts. Your feeling for your animals is the same as mine and it is a great tribute to them. They are such a joy and comfort. Will continue watching to see all the wonderful things you will be making.


  8. My heart melts EVERY time I see the parakeet. I miss mine and need to figure out a fool proof cage for a new one. My cat and my ceilings are the culprits. Thank you for sharing your love for pets (and animals in general) and for your inspiration. One day I plan to try making my own parakeet portrait. Yours is superb!


  9. Since my first quilt was of Sloanie, the next needs to be her sister, Ava. However, I have already prepped a picture of our Aussie, Lizzy so I know she will have one. Great idea to combine. Our cat, Bertha may not share Lizzy’s space in the house, she certainly could have no complaints on fabric! Love your animal quilts.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s