Beth Markel


Using old blocks for something new

Posted on December 11, 2017 by Beth Markel

It has been a lovely, long Fall season here in Michigan, and I took this photo 2 weeks ago when there were still leaves on the tress.  The change of seasons seems so fitting as we look forward to our first grandbaby on the way.

Last leaves of Autumn 2017


After completing a quilt that was an emotional roller-coaster, I wanted something simple, and frankly, easy.  I recently inherited a box of squares, all cut in somewhat different sizes, although I did not realize this at first. They were all cut by my darling mother-in-law, who passed two years ago this month.  One of the cousins had the box for a while, and I think it may eventually make its way around to all the cousins who sew.

So this is what I started with.  I just dumped the box out since it was rather jumbled from travelling, and found some squares already sewn in strips, some in pairs, and lots and lots of free-range squares.  This means, in my book, nothing matched!  So you have red, pink floral, orange florals, some Southwestern cactus graphics, batiks, medium tone grays with modern flair, some vintage feed sacks, lots and lots of shades of white, and even some upholstery fabric, as well as chintz…

Grandma Dee's Bucket-0-Squares

Grandma Dee’s Bucket-0-Squares

Wanting to use some of the squares my darling MIL had sewn, I found some that I knew she had marked on – she always penciled in a line for half-square triangles.  My goal was to make a new quilt for our first grandbaby, but one that his Great Grandmother had sewn part of.

Dee's pencil marks

Dee’s pencil marks


I did not realize until after I started sewing that some of the squares were NOT 2.5 x 2.5, but rather 2.38 x 2.5 or 2.25 x 2.25…or any combination thereof!  The lesson here became sew a four-patch THEN square it up so there is some unity in size.

Squaring up the box of squares

It is not finished yet, but I have now sorted and sewn light/dark or white/pattern pairs, 100 pairs, and will try to put them together in some charming way.

Lots of pairs

Lots of pairs


I’ll post when it’s finished and quilted.   In the meantime, enjoy the time you have with family & friends.




Unfinished Conversations is Finished

Posted on November 29, 2017 by Beth Markel

Hello all,

I apologize I haven’t posted for a couple of weeks, but it’s been a challenge to finish this very emotional piece.  If you look back through previous posts, you can see where this just started off with some stray, orphan blocks, and where it is today.  For me, this has been a wild roller-coaster of emotions, from missing my sister, to thinking about the mischief we got into, to laughing about small things and big things, and having babies only 4 months apart, and 2-yr olds at the same time, chasing after them, and so many things in-between.

So I’m going to take a deep breath, post a couple of the pics from along the way, and the final quilt.  When I finished it, and pressed it, then put it up on the design wall, I burst into tears, and cried for about 24 hours, just as the loss seemed so fresh again.  After 2 days of that, I feel like healing is coming.

OK, these just look like argyle socks...

OK, these just look like argyle socks…


Design Wall Friday 1_27_17


Cluster of blocks on shades of purple - it's OK, nothing special

Cluster of blocks on shades of purple – it’s OK, nothing special





Design Wall Friday 4_15_17

Design Wall Friday 4_15_17




DWF_10_13_17 Color

Done. My chest tightens up just working on this, but it's also been amazingly therapeutic

Done. My chest tightens up just working on this, but it’s also been amazingly therapeutic


Make every day count, and be kind to each other.








Using Black/White photos to determine color value in your quilts

Posted on October 14, 2017 by Beth Markel

Hi all,

I’m updating my design wall, first with what it actually looks like:

 DWF_10_13_17 Color


 And now in Black/White.  Often, when I get towards the end of a project, in this case one that is meaningful for me, I switch to B/W photos to look at the distribution, not of color, but of VALUE.  Value does all the work, but color gets all the credit!

DWF_10_13_17 Black and White


Are there ebbs and flows, or light and dark areas?

Is the value fairly flat across the entire piece?

Do I want more or fewer dramatic value changes?

Does any one area look too light?

Does any one piece or area stick out like a sore thumb?

In this case, can you tell where I begin to move to a completely dark tone, without a harsh line, but just movement into dark?

 I love the design process.  This pieced tribute is pure expression of what I think all of my unfinished conversations with my sister look like.  Relationships, especially with a sister, are complicated, funny, messy, loving, ridiculous, bickering, competitive, back to loving, but mostly enduring.  It’s the enduring part without her being here that’s hard.

Be kind today,




Design Wall Friday Update

Posted on October 7, 2017 by Beth Markel

In the last couple of months I’ve been working on a quilt that has come to mean a lot to me.  It did not start out that way, as it was just a handful of orphan blocks which I made thinking I would use them for one of Nancy Crow’s workshops.  The requirement for the workshop was to make them in black and white, which I did, but then I made a handful of them with some purple and yellow scraps leftover from another project, thinking I would first use the B/W then the color.  If you have ever been to a workshop that lasts 5 days, especially one with the extremely talented Nancy Crow, you’ll understand completely that things don’t always go the way you have them planned in your head!  In fact, I’ve learned to go to the Crow Barn with zero expectations of finishing anything, and zero expectations of my own agenda.  To sit at the foot of a master, you must set aside your own agenda, your own preconceptions, and your own bias.  Open-minded.  Period.

So this journey started with these dozen orphan blocks, and the more I worked with them, the more they reminded me of my sister, Barb. To make a long story short, she lost her battle with leukemia, APL – Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia – and this is what unfinished conversations with her looks like.  It is almost done, and I’m working every day to complete it.

Height it roughly 70″ and width will probably be close to 80″ when I’m done.

I think you can see where I’m moving into darkness – silence – off to the right.

This is where I was Monday:


And here’s where it was last night, Friday, around 10 p.m. when I finished sewing:





Design Wall Friday, 9-22-17

Posted on September 23, 2017 by Beth Markel

This is the continuation of what has been on my design wall for several months.  It’s really been a roller coaster, as I’ve sorted through grief in losing my sister.  It is not finished yet, and I posted it to facebook this morning on The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters page, looking for advice.  Since this quilt has really taken on a life of meaning for me, I didn’t know whether to dig into my stash and make it rectangular, or continue while adding space between the elements that are already together.

I thought I would just look at it one day and say, “Yep, finished.”  This is just not the case for this piece, and I wonder how others decide when a work is finished?  If you’re working from a traditional pattern, you make the required number of blocks, decide how to set them, and what, if any, you want the borders to be.  While I love traditional piecing, there’s often not a lot of choice, except in fabric colors/patterns.

As one of the posts said, “It very much looks like the crazy, messy, loving, complicated relationship that sisters have.”  What a great way to summarize the relationship I had with my sister.  What a great way to summarize a lot of relationships!

So while the hunt for a new iron continues…here’s what is on my design wall.

The size is top to bottom, about 70″ right now, and left-to-right roughly 60″ but I didn’t start out with any real plan as to size.

DWF_9_22_17_Early A.M.




Fall into quilting…

Posted on September 16, 2017 by Beth Markel

I took the month of August off, not entirely from quilting, but trying to catch up on outside projects before the weather turns chilly here in Michigan.  I also spent some time travelling, as well as 5 days in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for the AQS show.

Some last vestiges of summer in my back yard:

pink geraniums


Purple all summer, until this popped up yesterday morning - Crazy Petunias!

Purple all summer, until this popped up yesterday morning – Crazy Petunias!

Last year we had to cut down our ornamental cherry tree because it was split in a storm.  It was a beautiful, blooming tree, and we hated to cut it down, but it was damaged beyond repair.  We’ve been letting the wood dry out, and when it rained last week, you could suddenly see all of the chainsaw blade cuts in the wood.  I thought this was just cool!  How great would that be for a quilting pattern?

Cherry Tree blade marks

So on the quilting end of things, I’ve had two, count them, TWO, irons quit in the last couple of weeks.  First the Rowenta Pro Master I inherited from my darling MIL, Dee.  This was my favorite iron, primarily because of the heft, large soleplate area, and reliability…until it began leaking and spitting a dark liquid, looking like oil.  I’ve never put water it in – I’m a firm believer in misting exactly where I want to press, and never running water through the Rowenta.  To the best of my knowledge, my MIL seldom, if ever, put water in her irons, but apparently this is not an uncommon problem with the Rowenta.  The picture is not of burn marks, but of the liquid that came out of it, which I pressed dry to see if it was water or an oily liquid.  At one point, there was actually black water seeping from the base of the iron, so I rapidly unplugged it, and have not used it since.  If anybody has suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

Rowenta Pro Master     Rowenta piddle

My back-up iron, Oliso Pro, or “Ollie” as I like to call him, stopped jumping up and down.  It is possible that this is a design flaw, as it’s the 2nd iron from them that has had this problem, but so far, customer service has been spectacular.  You iron, set the iron down, and the feet pop up, lifting Ollie about 3/4″ from the ironing board.  In my case, I picked the iron up, the feet retracted, I ironed, set it down, and it went up and down 3 times, then sat, hot-soleplate down on the board.  The red light came on, and I think it’s a fire hazard, or at least a burn hazard for the ironing board cover.  I don’t know that it would start a fire, but it’s like setting an iron down, hot, soleplate down, and walking away – who would want to risk it?

So two irons down, and I’m looking for suggestions…

Finally, an improv piece from the facebook page, The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters, challenge #1, New York Beauty – Deconstructed.  Now just needs binding!  Quilting by Ruth McCormick, free-handed, and she did a beautiful job!

NYB Deconstructed - quilted front

NYB Deconstructed - back quilted

Ok, that’s the update!







Design Wall Friday – Monday Morning Quarterback

Posted on July 31, 2017 by Beth Markel

I have had my nose to the grindstone, sewing like crazy, trying to finish the Cherrywood Van Gogh Challenge.  First, I chose to do this because I really, truly, love Cherrywood fabrics!  The hand, the colors, the depth of value  in each fabric…well, I could go on for quite a while.  Secondly, I have been such a fan of Van Gogh, that if I didn’t participate, I would have been disappointed in myself.  While I believe there’s only a 50/50 shot of getting into the exhibit, I’m posting this here:

My artist statement:

My goal was to use Van Gogh’s painting, Starry Night, his many self-portraits, and his story, struggling artist, to create something totally unique.  First, I deconstructed all the stroke-work of Starry Night, knowing I wanted to use these iconic shapes in both the applique and quilting.  Van Gogh painted almost 40 self-portraits, making him the first “Selfie” artist, so I used a self-portrait and super-imposed the Van Gogh stroke-work.  With this evolution of design, I brought Van Gogh into the 21st Century, via Andy Warhol.


VanGogh Stage 1 VanGogh Stage 2 VanGogh Stage 3 VanGogh Stage 4 VanGogh Stage 5 VanGogh with tape measure




Design Wall Friday and generally updating life

Posted on July 8, 2017 by Beth Markel

If you live anywhere that has seasons, real seasons, like 104″ snow in the winter, and 95° with 95% humidity in July, then you’ll know that seasons can be pretty short – at least Summer here in Michigan seems very short to me!  To wit, I’ve been cramming as much outdoor time in that I can, including gardening projects, home improvement projects, and yes, quilting every evening after the sun goes down.

As an artist, sometimes you just want things to be interesting, done right, and pretty.  Welcome to this week’s project, which was completed this morning.  At the west end of our house we have 3 stained glass windows, but which were completely unremarkable as they were encased in heavy black molding, which was apparently held together with about 1.5″ of caulk.  It’s taken 6 days, but the transformation is lovely, and pleases my artist eye enormously…







You would never have known that there was actually bottle-green stained glass in those big, dark windows, but here you go, finished and lovely.  What was an eye-sore is now really pretty.

Next is the gazebo garden I’ve been working on for about 3 years, finally filled in and also a really nice place to have dinner in the warm weather…

Outdoor dining

Outdoor dining

And now for the quilts:

2 just back from Ruth McCormick’s Long-Arm Quilting, both improv pieces:

Curvy Improv with edge-2-edge quilting

Curvy Improv with edge-2-edge quilting

Quilted but no binding yet - love how this turned out!

Quilted but no binding yet – love how this turned out!










Design Wall Friday, 6/16/17

Posted on June 17, 2017 by Beth Markel

I’ve been blogging for a couple of years now and if you don’t keep a journal of some sort, write, blog, or just have time for yourself to process everyday, you might want to think about scheduling some time.  It doesn’t have to be a long time, but I find that when I write, or blog in this case, it helps me sort out what I have accomplished, what I want to work on next, and sometimes to just reflect for 10 minutes.  The current work on my design wall has been a couple of months to daily process loss.

Many years ago my sister Barb bought a knife block for us, leaving one slot empty so we could shop for another knife the following Christmas.  Shortly after that first Christmas she was diagnosed with Leukemia, and we never went shopping together again.  It took almost 6 years for me to fill the last empty knife slot in my Wustoff block.  That empty slot in the knife block was a painful, daily reminder that there weren’t going to be any more Christmas mornings with her.  There is a difference between knowing someone is gone, and accepting, and it’s taken me a long time to accept her death.  This quilt has been therapeutic, and while it didn’t start out that way, it’s been cathartic, too, as I’ve sifted through a life-time of memories while sewing this, laughed at some of our shenanigans I hadn’t thought of in years, and remembered the good, way more than the bad.

While this isn’t quite finished yet, it has sort of taken on a life of it’s own, and I’ll just know when it’s done.  In the mean time, I’m having a good time working, processing, and finally taking the journey of letting go.


Where does art fit in the world?

Posted on May 31, 2017 by Beth Markel

Sometimes as an artist, it’s hard to get my head around what happens in the world.  The bombing in Manchester, England last week is such an event – one that causes me to pause, pray for the victims, and victim’s families.  Thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by the targeted destruction of young lives.  Not just young people were affected, but those who were accompanying young family members to a fun night out at a concert were also lost.  Thinking of loss in my own life, and how grief is not something you “get over” but something you learn to live with, my thoughts and prayers will continue for the families affected last week in Manchester, England.

As many of you know, I’ve been on this journey for a couple of months now, of taking a dozen “orphan” blocks and turning them into something that has become a catalyst for dealing with my sister’s death.  It didn’t start out that way, as I thought I would turn these blocks into a crib quilt, have it quilted, and have another one to sell.  Once I started putting them together, however, they reminded me more and more of the conversations my sister Barb and I had, and the colors were an exact match for an outfit she had that just screamed her personality.

Here is an update, as the work continues to expand…

May 26 Barb's Quilted

May 26 Barb’s Quilted

Do something kind today.