About

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Over fifty. Married. One college-aged son. Furred and feathered pets (if you follow me you’re bound to find out more than you’d ever want). Reside in Harpswell, Maine.

Career

Currently teach quilting nationally and internationally (or is that redundant?). Developed my own technique of fabric collage quilting which I have explained in depth in two books, Free-Style Quilts and Serendipity Quilts. I usually teach at retreats, quilting guilds, or fabric shops, but I also run retreats here in my hometown.

I’ve been quilting for twenty-five years, teaching for twenty. My first pieces were done in college, where I used any excuse I could to do my illustration assignments in fabric. I painted on fabric, inked, drew in thread, did traditional piecing, applique and reverse applique. My influence was my mom, who trained as a seamstress. From her I inherited my love of fabric. I think it’s the tactile nature of it. My husband has more than once noted that when I shop for fabric, my hands are as busy fondling fabric as my eyes are drinking in the pattern and color.

As my quilts grew more elaborate over time, and took longer and longer to complete, I yearned for something more immediate, more like painting and less like construction. I was twenty-five the first time I reached for the glue bottle. I hesitated. It was something a true quilter was NOT SUPPOSED TO DO. I summoned the courage, used the glue, and I’ve never looked back. Leaving raw edges was another hurdle, another thing a true quilter was NOT SUPPOSED TO DO.

As you may have figured out by now, I’m over it. I don’t worry too much about what I’m NOT SUPPOSED TO DO. I still enjoy and appreciate fine craftsmanship. I’m a bit anal when it comes to squaring up a piece, quilting it, and sewing on a binding. These things have to be be just so.

I grew up in a crafty household. My mom sewed and my dad did woodwork. The first decade of my career I spent a lot of time making small quilts—16 x 20 inches or so—to sell. My first ones were mostly of fish—I must have made a thousand of them. Then I started to teach and slowly the teaching overtook the production of pieces to sell. Instead, I’ve concentrated on making the quilts I want to make. That change has turned out to be fruitful. I almost never sell quilts anymore. They mean too much to me to part with. Besides, they’re more valuable as promotion for teaching and the sale of books and other products.

In 2016, I will spend fifteen weeks teaching. For a homebody like me, that’s a lot. I try to limit teaching to one week per month on average. Between prepping for a trip, travel, teaching, and recovering from a trip, each week of teaching actually uses up about two weeks of my time and energy. That explains why I typically only produce one big quilt per year.

The quilts I do create I’ve been entering into shows such as the International Quilt Festival in Houston and the AQS Quiltweek shows that appear in various cities.Tickled PinkDixie Dingo Dreaming; Peace, Love, Tie-Dye, Save the Whales; and Golden Temple of the Good Girls are all award-winning quilts.

Fabric Collage

How do I do it? The way I approach it is to treat bits of fabric as dabs of paint. I cut pieces of fabric freehand (or use scraps as I find them) and use craft glue to tack the fabric in place. That’s really all there is to it. Often creating an image involves layering one fabric on top of another, sometimes using translucent tulle, until the desired effect is achieved. I machine quilt using a Bernina home sewing machine.

I don’t use templates. I work from photos to create a sketch (or not) onto a plain fabric–flannel or muslin, for example. I then fill in the sketch. If I’m doing an animal, I often start at the head, since that’s the most interesting part. I like to play with color, often ignoring the natural colors, but I pay strict attention to value. Darks and lights, highlights and shadows. Value is what gives the piece form.

Occasionally the background of an image will be one solid piece of fabric, but most often I continue collaging the background as well.

Teaching

Growing up I figured I had three career choices: artist, teacher, or veterinarian. Now I’m a quilt artist who teaches fabric collage and creates quilts mainly of animals. Funny how things work out.

I’m a very hands-on teacher. When I work with a student, I don’t stand back and lecture about what they should be doing. If I have to, I grab the scissors and show them what I mean. I am also a coach–encouraging, cajoling, critiquing. Since fabric collage is often very different from anything they’ve done before, students sometimes lack confidence. Giving them that confidence is part of my job.

Rather than simply teaching a particular technique, I have to teach students to see, truly see. To look at whatever they are creating and ignore what they have been taught something looks like and really see it. Again, value is critical. Where are the highlights? What shape are the shadows? An eye isn’t round. A nose has a shadow under the tip.

Students often wonder how they are supposed to know when they’re done. When is a piece finished? For me the answer is easy: when I run out of time! No, seriously, I could always add more. More detail, more color, more texture.

More is better!

I encourage my students to keep going. Keep adding layers. Keeping defining features.

Rich: that’s the word. I want my students to make their pieces rich. Not flat. Not monochromatic. There’s enough bland stuff in the world. I’m not going to add to it.

21 thoughts on “About

  1. Susan, your quilts are so amazing and I’ve never seen anything like them. Does Serendipity Quilts stand on its own or do I first need to read Free-Style Quilts? I would like to buy one of them! Thanks!

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  2. When I attended Empty Spools, I was very impressed with how successful your students were with your technique and how very enthusiastic and complimentary they were about you as a teacher. I didn’t know enough about your technique to ask you the question that has puzzled me ever since I read your books. Why do you chose glue instead of fusible web to hold the collage in place? What benefits does it offer?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good question. I get that one often. Primarily glue offers me immediacy. Put the piece of fabric in place, lift an edge, apply a dab of glue, move on the to the next piece. It’s quick and also reversible. If I don’t like something, as long as I don’t overdo the glue, I can pull it up and re-glue it. The glue I use–Aleene’s Tacky Glue–dries flexible preventing the quilt from feeling stiff, regardless of how many layers of fabric pieces I may end up with. Fabric pre-treated with fusible webbing would start to build up an overall stiffness to the quilt top.

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  3. Susan I love your blog and your quilting style! I watch your site hoping you will have a class somewhere in the south _ one I could drive to !! Do you have any planned? I would love to attend _ loved your blog on color I am studying it closely . Thank you for sharing you skills and art . Karon

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  4. I see by your website that you will be teaching in San Diego in 2017, but there is no further information. I would like to know more about that class or retreat, like where it is to be and when.
    Thanks, Susan Betty Alofs

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  5. my name is susan wageman trying to help a friend out we live in leesburg va her mother passed away and wold love to find someone to make 3 small quilts my phone is 818-564-5598 someone please help me i have been having trouble findin anyone than can help 818-564-5598 cel

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    1. You can buy “Serendipity Quilts” thru my website. Susan Carlson.com. You’ll have to be patient on delivery as we won’t be able to fulfill orders for a week

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  6. Just took a class on your technique and can’t find a tulle that doesn’t take away the vibrancy of the color of the fabrics. Any suggestions?

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    1. Wonderful! Where did you take the class and who with? Tulle doesn’t need to go over the whole piece as long as you glue each edge so it can’t get caught by the machine foot when quilting. A tight quilting pattern will hold the fabric down. Alternatively, if you feel you need the tulle, try using a dark tulle. Black, dark blue, maroon sometimes work better than light colored tulle.

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  7. Hello Susan,
    I am starting my first portrait quilt project. Thinking of buying fabric is a bit overwhelming. I was hoping you put together a line like precuts do for quilters. I am looking for Susan Carlson precuts for the art quilter, where you have used your expertise, and I can pay for the ease of that. Is there any such thing that you do?

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