Featured Instructor at NW Quilting Expo 2016!

I’m teaching at The Northwest Quilting Expo this weekend in Portland!


Pamplin Media published an article about me.  How exciting to see myself listed as a “rising star of quilting.”  It’s so rewarding to see interest in my work.


Although my class at The Northwest Quilt Expo is SOLD OUT – you can still sign up for a class at The Pine Needle.  We just opened up classes on October 9th and November 6th.  Please, come and spend a Sunday afternoon (noon – 4 pm) coloring quilts with me!

It’s Been a Year Already?! (How I Became a Longarm Quilter)


Coleen fun
Coleen Barnhardt, Owner – The Quilted Thistle

Today marks the one year anniversary of the real beginning of my longarm journey – the day my Innova longarm quilting machine was delivered and set up by Jack and crew at Boersma’s in McMinniville, OR.  Previous to delivery, I had taken a one-day class with Capri after meeting her towards the end of September at the Northwest Quilt Expo in Portland.  All I really knew was that the machine was fun to drive, and apparently, I showed some talent.  Based upon that little information/experience, my amazing husband supported my wild idea of taking a break from my career as a special educator and following my new passion into the realm of professional quilting!  What a guy, right?! Continue reading “It’s Been a Year Already?! (How I Became a Longarm Quilter)”

Stash Busting & Quilting Red Batik (Sew Kind of Wonderful: QCR Metro Hoops)

This quilt came into being because I had placed myself on a fabric buying moratorium.  I know I say this quite frequently then come home with more fabric.  But this time, I decided I had to follow through and just make something.  I had jelly rolls, layer cakes, fat quarter bundles, and all kinds of yardage just growing in piles around my studio over the past few months.  I had even convinced myself I needed that bolt of bright red batik last time I went on a batting run to EE Schenks.  That’s right, I said bolt.  That’s a lot of bright red batik.  Of course I realized this after I had gotten it home. And added it to the stash.  And suddenly the idea of the red quilt was born out of a necessity to use up that red batik.

In addition to buying a bolt of bright red batik, I have also come to love using the Quick Curve Ruler by Sew Kind of Wonderful since making a cheerful table runner for my mom’s birthday.  I had so much fun, that I bought several more patterns (yes, I also have a pattern stash.)  For some reason, once I made the decision to forge ahead with the red batik,  I could just see a red Metro Hoops quilt. After that, it all just fell together.  Another trip to my stash led me to a roll of 2 1/2 inch strips in Maywood Studio’s Catalina collection full of prints in red, orange, green and pink.  I wasn’t sure what color to make the triangles, but within the options I had, I settled on this bright yellow.  I really could have chosen any of the beautiful Kona solids that I pulled out to audition, but my husband really likes the color yellow.  So, after seeing how it played with the Catalina fabrics, it was time to make a test block.

I was pleased with the result.  It was definitely going to be bright!  All that red batik was going to give me a great amount of negative space to fill with beautiful quilting.  My goal is to enhance the quilt and make people want to draw closer and see the details.   To do this, I knew this project was going to take longer than any I had undertaken to date.

Whenever I quilt one of my own projects, I try to push myself to do a new technique and learn as much as I can.  After saving up for months, I recently purchased a variety of longarm rulers and templates from Quilter’s Apothecary.  For those of us who quilt without computerized assistance, these types of tools give us a way to quilt perfect circles and nice evenly spaced lines.  I did not want my maiden voyage with them to be on a client’s quilt, however, so this would be a great opportunity to try them out on my own quilt.

I also knew I wanted to incorporate feathers into my quilting design.  I’ve just started quilting feathers, and have ascertained from reading articles and watching videos that feathers are apparently difficult.  Feathers are also very popular – and when done well – are a beautiful addition to quilting designs.  So I’ve been practicing in my sketch book, and feel that I’m ready to tackle freemotion feathers.

So with circles and feathers in mind, my next step was to audition threads and quilting motifs.  I’m sure glad I made a sample block that I could load up on the frame and experiment on.

Since the Metro Hoops do not form a perfectly rounded circle, I was challenged to adapt the design to include perfectly round shapes.   That’s when I thought of changing the shape to a square before filling the center with a couple of concentric circles.  This was my first big project using my new Quilter’s Apothecary Longarm Rulers, and I am in love with them!  The handles on the circles are great for increased control, and The Mystical 45 Ruler made quilting the square border of triangles possible without marking the quilt.

After finishing the sample block, I realized just how beneficial quilting a sample piece can be in refining the quilting design.  Once I had finished the sample, I realized I wanted a bit more definition between the motifs, so on the actual quilt, I modified the design to include narrow unquilted bands to help define the string of pearls.  I also decided to change the center motif from a four petal flower to feathers.  The petals were quilted in such a way that it seemed almost flat – which I wanted to improve.  I had settled on feather motifs in the yellow squares/triangles, so I decided to quilt  the center circle with feathers.  I really like repeating design elements when quilting.  Its speaks to intentionality and forethought.

Isn’t the texture wonderful?  I used two layers of batting – a layer of wool over a layer of cotton batting.  It was quite a treat to quilt!
Here’s a quick peak underneath.  I decided to go for the high contrast look and chose an extra-wide backing fabric in that same shade of bright yellow.  The tension looked beautiful and I was using three bobbins per row of quilting.
I used Superior’s Omni  and Mono Poly threads.  I was a bit nervous about how my Innova Quilting Machine would like the monofilament thread, but I shouldn’t have worried.  I just loosened the top tension and it stitched wonderfully.  The clear thread really looks yellow on the solid colored fabric. I was really pleased with how much continuous line quilting I was able to do with the clear thread.  I’ll be exploring this more in future quilts.
I love how the natural light shines into our dining nook, so I always try to get a picture on our table.  I just love how the yellow in the quilt  visually connects with the ochre walls – and the red is the same color as our kitchen island lights.

The finished quilt measures 60 x 90 and is perfect to wrap up in.  My next task will be attaching a hanging sleeve to to the back.  (Note to self for next time:  Remember to machine attach hanging sleeve when sewing on the front half of the binding to reduce hand sewing time.)

I really like how the back turned out.  I used Omni Yellow thread in the bobbin with the Mono Poly, and it made the stitching  really define the wedding rings.

This quilt took me over 30 hours to quilt – and helped me use up some of my stash.  On both counts I’m proud of my accomplishments.  I’ll be honest and tell you that I’m looking forward to quilting some simpler designs for a while, but I’m already thinking about what my next challenge quilting project will be.  After all, I’ve still got several more QCR patterns and fabrics waiting in my stash, and I really want to quilt bigger circles!

Judith’s Quilt: “Green Crossroads”

I am so excited to show you this cool quilt I got the opportunity to custom quilt recently.

In January, Judith Quinn Garnett contacted me about finishing a quilt for her.  She had designed and pieced this 42 x 49″ top, and had a specific idea for how she wanted it machine quilted.  As soon as I saw her idea, I knew it was perfect for this quilt.

I was personally experimenting with creating secondary patterns with quilting, and this project explored that idea without becoming overcomplicated (a problem I sometimes deal with when exploring design possibilities.)  I toyed with some alternate quilting plans, but honestly just couldn’t put Judith’s original idea aside because it just worked and seemed the right choice.  Honestly, I have a hard time taking credit for much of anything with this project, because Judith had a vision and all I did was follow her plan.

I chose a variegated green King Tut Cotton Thread and stitched in the ditch around the green piecing.   It blends well with the colors on the top, and makes the quilting pattern really stand out on the back side of the quilt.
To make sure that my lines were straight I used a ruler throughout the quilting of this project.  This worked well for the inside blocks of the quilt and stitching in the ditch around the green piecing, but I had to improvise a bit to get the pattern correct on the outside edges since it cut the star motif in half.  I quickly figured out a way to get the lines and angles correct so that I could get this finished up for Judith.
Some clients like to do their own bindings, and some ask for me to provide a binding service for their project.  For this project, Judith prepared the binding for me using a continuous bias binding method and I attached it and machine finished it for her.  It was nice having a continuous strip and not having to deal with the extra fabric of seams that can sometimes be bulky.  I would definitely use this method if I were doing a scalloped binding, because it would have a nice stretch for getting in and around those curves and points.  It also worked well for this project.

When I machine finish a binding, I like to have fun with the decorative stitches on my Pfaff domestic sewing machine.  For this project, this “plus” stitch repeated the piecing pattern and just seemed like the right way to finish it.

I’m so glad I had the opportunity to finish this for Judith, and by following her design instincts, I think we ended up with a great finished product.  Being able to stitch out her vision helped me rethink the way I approach some projects, and has me itching to try my hand at more designs like this in the future.

And as a final look, I offer this full sized photo of the backside.  I love the fabric Judith chose!

I look forward to collaborating with her again!

#11: “Whirlygig” and Secondary Patterning

When I have the chance to quilt for myself, it tends to be about skill acquisition.  I spend a lot of time thinking about different quilting patterns, but not all of them quilt out the way I envision them.  When I pieced “Whirlygig,”  I was determined to create a secondary quilting pattern to explore.  I had a colorful layer cake and wanted to keep the piecing simple since I’m such a quilting newbie.  I started with one idea in mind, and after I had cut all the layer cake up – I changed my mind.  After all, it’s my prerogative, right?

What I ended up with was two different blocks – what I proceeded to refer to as “the big pinwheels” and “the little pinwheels.”  (Original, huh?)  After I finished piecing it, I took some time away from it to cook up an idea.  One early morning when I couldn’t sleep, I drafted up a plan:

If you look closely at the finished quilt and the original plan, you’ll see I changed it up a tiny bit once it was loaded on the frame and I was stitching it all together.  I shouldn’t tell you this, but I forgot one design element I was planning on using once I got the machine going – so it got edited out.  It was just an idea, after all – and I was fine with it changing during the process.

Working on this quilt soon became all about marking and ruler work.  Having a master plan to refer to was really helpful when working on individual sections of the quilt.

I chose the fill motifs as I went along – The photo above shows the last and probably most difficult decision I made while quilting this.  I just had no idea for a while as to how to fill this hourglass shape.  Since a friend had commented on liking a particular pattern on a previous quilt, I decided to try it out and it ended up giving a nice texture to the piece.

Needing a unifying design element, I chose these spirals to go in the center of each of the pinwheels – regardless of whether they were small or large.  My second unifying theme was using secondary patterning to reverse the visual details on the large and small pinwheels.  For example, if it was a small pinwheel, I quilted it as if it was a large pinwheel.

I also treated the center block as a sort of medallion and gave the quilting a focal motif that was different from the surrounding blocks.  This also gave me an opportunity to practice my micro-stippling!

If I were doing it all again, I would have used more variety in the filler size.  Sometimes the secondary patterning isn’t as visible as I intended.

But once you turn it over and get a look at the back, you can see it way more clearly!

Actually, I liked the way the back turned out so much that I’m contemplating designing my first whole cloth quilt.  It’s amazing how one idea so quickly leads to another.

#10: One for Home

This is my tenth quilt.  When I decided to buy a longarm quilting machine, I knew that it was going to take a LOT of practice.
I also knew that I wanted to have a lap size quilt for my family that would be a sampler and showcase some new techniques for me to try.

When I decided to get back into sewing, I started buying fabrics for my “stash.”  These fabrics were good quality quilting cottons that I purchased quarter yards of.  When I decided I wanted to piece a simple top for practicing, I chose four prints and a solid.

 Once I had the top pieced, I started thinking about how to quilt it.  I wanted this to be a quick and easy project in between some larger ones – so I wasn’t really wanting to do a lot of marking and pre-planning.  I had recently made a doodle in my sketch book while dreaming up possible quilting motifs.  I thought this border turned out well for a first attempt.

 I’m sure I’ll explore this more on future quilts.  It was a lot of fun!

I was able to try out some continuous curves on the small blocks, and some paisley filler.
Some geometric ruler work combined with some free motion filler.
I liked the simplicity of the scrolls and the multi-directional arrow motif.
I found some designs that I really liked, and want to include in future quilts.

And I decided to really have fun with the backing fabric on this one.  I fell in love with this rooster print, and knew right away it was the right one for this quilt.

 I used Hobbs 80/20 batting, which has more loft than Warm and White Cotton, and will be a bit warmer in the winter months.  After all, this quilt is all about snuggling up on the couch.  I’m excited to see how it looks after it’s first trip through the washer and dryer.

#9: The One That Started It All

This quilt took a while to be finished.  In fact, at one point in time, I wasn’t sure it was EVER going to get finished.

When I decided last year that I was going to pick quilting back up, I never anticipated how that simple decision would turn into The Quilted Thistle.  I just knew that I grew up watching my grandmother and great-grandmother take scraps of fabric and turn them into precious quilts – and I wanted to follow in their footsteps.
After all, no one else in the family quilted, so it felt like a good way to carry on traditions and take my sewing hobby back up.

So, with that idea in mind, I went to Fabric Depot and quickly lost myself in the possibilities.  After walking around with starry eyes petting all of the beautiful cottons, I just wasn’t sure which ones to choose for my first project.  In fact, I was suddenly really overwhelmed with all the possibilities. Where to start?  Clearly, I needed a different tactic than just randomly walking around the seemingly endless bolts of beauty.

So, I took a moment to collect myself and redirect my efforts.  I had been doing a lot of quilting research via Pinterest, and was curious about pre-cut fabrics and what it would be like to make a quilt out of them.  That’s about as far as I had taken the idea – but when I found myself in a fabric store unsure of what to do, I remember grabbing onto the idea of precuts and taking myself over to the precut section to check out what was in stock.

Again, I quickly found myself overwhelmed by possibilities – this wasn’t going to end well if I couldn’t make a decision and get started.  After all, I had a new mantra:  “Done is better than perfect.”  I had a lifetime of not finishing things because of my perfectionist tendencies, and I wanted to change that.  So, as I went back to choosing precuts with that in mind, I quickly settled on a charm pack of batiks – well actually two different charm packs of batiks – so I grabbed them both and quickly checked out.  I didn’t have any other idea in mind other than “these fabrics are so beautiful.”

Now is probably a good time to admit that I tend towards the “not sure what this is going to end up looking like, but I’m going to have fun figuring it out” process when it comes to art.  I’ve since discovered the term “Improvisational Quilting” – but at the time, I was absolutely unsure what to do with these little 5″ squares of batik fabric.  I’m sure at least a couple of weeks went by while I was “researching” ideas.  Eventually, just like when I found myself in the fabric store – I decided I just needed to get started and see what would happen.  So I started making pinwheels.

When I got all of the charm packs sewn into pinwheels, I quickly realized they were not enough by themselves to make a quilt top – so back to Fabric Depot I went.  It was easier this time – I was only going to look at their Batiks.  This was sooo much easier!  After about an hour of going back and forth between the aisles trying to choose, I went with two fabrics, one green and one cream.  I went home and quickly assembled them into a quilt top – my first finished top ever (I have several UFOs in storage tubs – but we’ll save those for another day.)  So, I found myself ready to quilt – and again I got stuck.  I just wasn’t happy with the options I had for finishing the quilt on my domestic sewing machine.  What now?  Out came the fabric tub with my previous Unfinished Objects and in went the folded quilt top.  I was committed to finish this one – but I had more research to do…

…which led me eventually to longarm quilting.  And learning how to longarm enabled me to finally finish this quilt top:

Which I had decided was going to be a Christmas gift for my parents (deadlines work wonders for me when it comes to finishing things.)

It’s not a perfect quilt.  Since it was my first, I didn’t know anything about the correct way to add borders or how to keep a quilt square.  My pinwheels aren’t all perfectly pieced – but I learned how trimming them up can fix a lot of issues.

I also ended up with wavy borders that I had read plenty about – and now understand why people recommend taking them apart and redoing them before loading on the longarm.  I didn’t – so I had to figure out how to densely quilt and make tucks in places that wouldn’t be as noticeable.

I also fell in love with the crinkled texture that comes after the finished quilt is washed for the first time.

And I decided that I’m going to make a lot more quilts with micro-fleece for backing:

It’s soooo wonderful to touch and keeps you super warm!

Throughout this project, I just had to keep reminding myself that “done is better than perfect.”

Although now that it’s done, I now think that it is absolutely perfect, just the way it is!

#8: Baby Gender Reveal Quilt(s)

I’ve seen several different ways that parents-to-be have revealed the gender of their baby.  When I was contacted about quilting some baby quilts for this purpose, I was really excited at the opportunity.  These small quilts started  as two panels – one for a boy, and one for a girl.  Both were designed to be made into soft books, but I love the way they were turned into quilt tops!

We went with a simple stipple pattern for the quilting, with the addition of a single heart quilted into each one:

Baby Girl Quilt Detail
Baby Boy Quilt Detail
Baby Boy Quilt
Baby Girl Quilt

I don’t know about you, but I’m sure curious to know which gender was revealed when the parents-to-be opened their baby quilt gift on Christmas morning!

# 7: A Wedding Quilt

I spent a lot of time with this customer quilt.  This double wedding ring was pieced by Diana Alexander and her daughter, Aubrey Sills, as a wedding gift for a relative.  Several people saw this in progress on the frame, and fell in love with it.  This was made using the Quick Curve Ruler by Sew Kind of Wonderful.  I had a lot of inspiration from looking at photos on their blog.  I knew it would take me a while to quilt, because I was trying several techniques that were new to me.  I learned a LOT from this quilt.  
Here is a snapshot I took to send to Diana, who was eager to see what it was going to look like:

There is something wonderful about seeing a quilt stretched out on the frame and seeing how it develops.

I wanted to both recreate the style of quilting I had seen from other photos, and simplify it so that it wouldn’t be too overwhelming for me to quilt (remember, I’m still pretty new to this). One of the great things about this quilt from a learning perspective, is that the repeated design elements gave me plenty of opportunity to see my skills improve and with it the amount of time it took for me to complete a section.  I’m proud to report that I cut my quilting time in half when comparing my time at the beginning of the project and towards the end – good thing, or I might still be quilting it!

Here’s a photo of it from more of a distance:

And the backing fabric was a beautiful blue flannel:

I’m sure this will be a treasured gift for the bride and groom!