Friday, July 21, 2017


maker unknown, c. 1920-1940
Gwen Marston taught me to see the possibilities in old quilts, pointing out the rich tradition on which to improvise. The quilts of interest to Gwen were quilts with visual impact and surprise---something random, something clever, something irregular and a means to an end. Random and irregular design was the result of available material and scraps, and clever construction designed to finish the job. 

Look carefully at the seam lines. Look at the fabric and shapes and wonder about how it came to be in a quilt. The quilt will tell you a lot about the quilt maker's decisions. Choices about color and design, placement of pieces really, showed individual preferences of the maker and overall utility. No prescribed formula or pattern guided this process.

Here is what Gwen had to say about this quilt: "The Crazy Cotton Quilt an example of the free-spirited quilts that I found intriguing. Because there is more to see and more to figure out, quilts like this hold my attention longer than their predictable, well-organized, color-coordinated, pattern-based, uptown sisters." Gwen Marston in Liberated Quiltmaking II, AQS 2010, p. 6. 

Crazy Cotton Quilt Top, published in Liberated Quiltmaking II and formerly Gwen's, now lives with me. This old quilt is now my new teaching companion from one of my favorite companions. 

Take a look at White Chocolate Mocha Joe studying this old quilt. He is the in house quilt expert, supervisor of time management-studio boss, and top dog.

Monday, July 3, 2017


FANFARE  small study
10" x 11"

This small study, FANFARE, was inspired by Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man.     My days in the French Horn section were superb in the brass choir ensemble where brass fanfares were standard fare! Fanfare for the Common Man is spectacular to play and I became moved to try to interpret it in cloth. Hence this abstract miniature quilt with the bold colored area representing the rhythm and overall sound of the music, as I experience it. 

The radio program, On the Media, had a wonderful biography of Aaron Copland, "The Sound of America". I learned that Copland's working title, or a title he considered for the fanfare, was Fanfare for Democracy. To celebrate Independence Day, I'll celebrate democratic values: self governance, equality, liberty and justice for all, and a great American composer who wrote a fanfare---Fanfare for the Common Man. listen here    

*and about those horns, "If there exists a more noble sound than eight horns singing a melody fortissimo in unison, I have never heard it." __Aaron Copland 

Thursday, June 29, 2017


Lorna said a quilter's stitch is a signature, as individual as the person. That is what my grandmother said. Quilting by hand sculpts the surface of the quilt. The hand stitching becomes a design element as well as the function holding the layers together.

I like the quilting to be expressive so I improvise. I do not mark the lines to be quilted. 
Improvise and "you have a unique identity."---Wynton Marsalis 
Wynton and Lorna, voices you can trust!

Here is a brief look at the supplies I favor:

Thread for hand quilting is labeled Quilting thread. I use 100% cotton, favoring Gutterman with a pretty and functional glaze. If the weight is listed, look for 40/3. I like color and do not limit my choice to a neutral color thread. It is good to try multiple thimbles until you find what you like. The one I use, shown in the photo, has a raised brass top with a lip to control the needle. It has a serious, heavy duty look, as if you should don a hard hat. I started hand quilting by using a quilting hoop. This looks like an embroidery hoop, but it is more substantial to secure the layers of the quilt. I now mostly quilt in a frame, a simple home made device, and more about that later.

As with finding a thimble, I tried many needles first buying a package of assorted "betweens". I now use a John James size 11 Quilting needle/between. I rarely work without the Needle Grip It, discovering that this adhesive dot gives me a good grip on the needle minimizing strain. (Kudos to the naming dept.)

here is another look at my thimble

If you can shop at a local quilt shop, please do. If you internet shop, here are some links. The Colonial Needle Co. markets the Needle Grip-It and a similar thimble called a Raised Edge Thimble/Side Stitcher.

I am offering classes in hand quilting, and one is coming up soon! 

AQS QuiltWEEK August 16-19, 2017 Grand Rapids, MI

2018 Madeline Island School of the Arts--A five day workshop! Studio Hand Quilting at MISA

Saturday, June 17, 2017


CLOUDBURST is in AQ---and there I am too!  American Quilter, July 2017

Another expression of appreciation to AQS, the judges and Horn of America Collection. My profile photo was taken by my friend since forever, Dennis Murphy. Congratulations to all of my colleagues with quilts in the Paducah show. I have been marveling at your fine work in the Catalogue of Show Quilts 2017.

Saturday, June 10, 2017


Improvisation for Squares--Thurs. 8-17 & Studio Hand Quilting--Fri. 8-18

Two short afternoon classes so you can take in all of the great events at QuiltWEEK

Registration information

You are invited to ask questions before or after you register--email me, I'm friendly! 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


                                  CRAYONS 45" X 44"   

by pam j. beal
The beauty is in the mark. The expression is in the mark. The quilting stitch is a series of marks. Possibilities are in the mark. 

I have fun with all the steps of making a quilt, even naming the quilt. Here we have--show title: CRAYONS  Working title: Ink & Crayon  Other considerations: Runs With Crayons--As if Crayon--Crayons Sans Box

I hope to see you in Grand Rapids, and I'll be teaching

Crayons will be exhibited with 272 other quilts from 43 states, and 11 other countries. August 16-19, 2017 Grand Rapids, MI

Thursday, June 1, 2017


I have it on good authority that Gwen has only a few copies left of the award winning book, 37 Sketches. I previously posted about how influential this book has been on my quilting practice and it is very artful in terms of the photography and narrative. No wonder it won a New York Book Award!

If you would like your own copy---write to Gwen at: P.O. Box 155, Beaver Island MI 49782

Include a check for $33.00 and let Gwen know if you want her to sign your book.

Most of you know that Gwen is retired now, and maybe I should say she is in the process of retiring much as she has followed a process in quilt making. She recently offered a lecture about Mary Schafer, and reflected that this was a full circle event. Her professional work seemed to begin and end with Mary Schafer. 

The Mercer Museum in Doylestown, PA is hosting an exhibition of the traveling collection of Mary's quilts contained in the Michigan State University Great Lakes Quilts Collection.

Gwen shared a story about Mary looking at one of Gwen's Liberated quilts and Mary exclaimed, "Oh I wish I could sew so crudely!" Mary said that with appreciation mind you.

Saturday, May 27, 2017


My small study,  a "sister" quilt influenced by Sujata

While wandering the quilted corners of the internet in search of Amish quilt images, something caught my eye. One click away was a better look, and to my delight I recognized the name of the quilt maker. There I sat admiring a quilt made by Sujata Shah. Through studying her quilt in that moment I felt as if we were stitched together in something important, as if the world is a small, friendly and sharing place. Let's make it sew.   

Take a moment to meet Sujata and look at her profile photo---

Sujata's quilt influenced me to play with scraps and color, and make a "sister" quilt. I trimmed one edge, found the scrap too darling to discard, and it became the little improvisation on the bottom. I think of that piece as a path from my house to Sujata's. 

Here is a look at a few of my small studies out and about at a trunk show, with "Sujata's Sister" placed in the nine patch. 


Monday, April 24, 2017


First Place Small Wall Quilts-Hand Quilted goes to Cloudburst! Thank you AQS Judges and Horn of America

4-24-17: I'm waiting in suspense to learn what award has been given to Cloudburst

photo by Lynn Carson Harris

Sunday, April 2, 2017


Madeline Island School of the Arts---Six Month Mark

In 6 months we will have been greeted warmly by MISA and class will begin---with a full cookie jar. 

Make Your Mark:A Quilter's Mark Making Study---  registation info here

I guess it will work...............

Saturday, March 18, 2017



lay down the boogie------------------------------

               March 18, 2017---a stitch in time

Saturday, March 11, 2017


CLOUDBURST 50" x 50" is a semi-finalist at the AQS QuiltWEEK Spring Paducah International exhibit, on display in the Small Wall Quilts-Hand Quilted category. My quilt will be among 403 other quilts from 44 US states and 14 other countries. The show is expected to draw 30,000 visitors according to the AQS Press Release. 

Also, my friend Lynn is teaching at Paducah and you could consider taking a class with her. Get to know Lynn at and learn more about her classes in Paducah at

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


When have you last said, "a real bobby-dazzler"?  Oh, not familiar with that? Apparently it is said of something visually astonishing, showy. I came across this exclamation in Making Welsh Quilts The Textile Tradition That Inspired The Amish? by Mary Jenkins and Clare Claridge. More about this another time....

What I came here to do is to offer an update on my 2017 teaching schedule. I am delighted to return to teach with the American Quilter's Society and The Madeline Island School of the Arts:

AQS QUILTWEEK Grand Rapids MI, August 16-19, 2017--- IMPROVISATION FOR SQUARES and STUDIO HAND QUILTING. Two 3 hour classes to fit your schedule. After all there is much to see and do at an AQS event. Registration will be open around June and here is the link so you can learn more

MADELINE ISLAND SCHOOL OF THE ARTS (MISA) October 2-6, 2017---A QUILTER'S MARK MAKING STUDY. registration information

A 5 day workshop at MISA is the icing on the cake! Time allows immersion. Time for discovery, study, experimentation and all things quilt. BONUS--Some say they leave having made friends for life. 

Being on an island in Lake Superior, you could be immersed in the lake. But maybe not in October, brrr! Better to stay inside the studio with the bottomless cookie jar. The friendly and attentive people at MISA really think of everything to keep us comfortable and focused on the learning experience. 

It would be swell to see you in class!

Madeline Island School of the Arts

Sunday, January 8, 2017

STUDIO NOTES---getting started

You are here, announces the sign. It is the start of a new year. Let's talk about getting started. Students are often interested in how to get started with improvisation. They have told me they were curious, or had a desire to work without a pattern but didn't know how to start. The conversation becomes rich with discussion of influences, inspiration and process. 

Get ready---get set---GO!

Much like Gwen Marston, I often turn to old quilts for ideas and inspiration. An antique Amish log cabin quilt with tiny logs and different colored centers had me smitten see the quilt  and has offered the starting idea for one of my quilts. When I become preoccupied with a quilt I have seen, I can work with those ideas without trying to reproduce the quilt.

Sometimes I draw a rough sketch, a really rough sketch----

and this idea turned into Breaking Trail 27" x 26" which went on to join the gallery in Free Range Triangle Quilts by Gwen Marston and Cathy Jones.

Get set---  Choosing a palette to start the quilt is part of the initial action. I select a few colors that interest me at the time knowing I will add or remove fabrics as I go along. 

GO---  Cut and sew, repeat. I cut a few random strips. I might have some interesting scraps left over from a previous project. Do one thing and see where that leads. A quilt is started without using a pattern for instruction, or expectation of what the quilt should look like. Improvisation is about self-expression after all. 

Here is what another artist has to say about getting started:  "I just put down a mark and start drawing. It is very intuitive and intuition is based on repetition." Matthew Metz, Potter, in American Craft on PBS.

It looks like one way to start is to begin!  pjb