Beth Markel


Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees

Posted on April 16, 2023 by Beth Markel

Every couple of weeks or so I clean off my sewing table. If I didn’t, it would look something like a tornado had rolled through my studio and deposited everything in heaps and disarray, from stray cut strips to spools of thread and bobbins. I’m not diligent about this, or in a discipled way I would put everything away each night and retrieve it every morning. I do that in retreats. I do that when I travel. I even do that when I teach…but home alone, I can be a Messy Bessy.

So, I spent most of Friday cleaning off my sewing table, neatly folding strips so I wouldn’t have to press too much when I pull them out of their covered bins. I cleaned and oiled my machine, and I ran the vacuum in the entire studio, finding only 6 stray pins before they were accidentally sucked up. Small as they are, pins do not agree with my vacuum cleaner.

In the midst of cleaning, and on my 2nd cup of coffee I began to wonder what had become of the bobbin I wanted to use up since it was a light shade of gray. I put a bikini on it while I was cleaning my machine. Bobbin Bikinis are a wildly useful little tool. My machine was oiled, with a new needle in it, and almost ready to go to work. I had vacuumed, so I knew my bobbin had not hit the floor. It wasn’t next to my machine oil, which has its own little house (it stands in a short canning jar), and I had not put it on my thread stand.

The stray bobbin was not where I would normally put it. It wasn’t in my pockets. I had not carried it upstairs and accidentally thrown it in the washer (phew!). It wasn’t even next to the coffee pot, where I’ve left bobbins once or twice. No clue…

Found it! Yes, I did drink that 16 oz of coffee with a bobbin in the bottom. This reminds me of a ‘Goat Rodeo’ song on their 2nd album, “Your Coffee Is a Disaster” which is a fabulous work, especially if you think Yo-Yo Ma is a genius. Could be worse – I could have swallowed it!

Saturday, yesterday, I was able to sew for about 10 hours, uninterrupted. It was GLORIOUS! Working on a piece that has about a billion small pieces in it can be overwhelming. I broke it down into 12 piles of 30 each, first trimming all the edges to square them up, and then stitching mostly white fabrics to them. They will become the part of the ocean where the waves have broken on shore, so just white foam swirls around your feet in ankle-deep water. It isn’t always easy to see where the finished quilt will end up exactly, but I’ve a pretty good idea the direction each piece needs to head to make part of the whole.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed when working with small pieces. It easy to lose track and not see any progress…then I look at Chaos, hanging across the room and just say, sometimes out loud, “I can do this. I CAN do this. Hang in there!”  My dog thinks I’m nuts.

I apologize this is not a clearer picture, but my camera wanted to focus solely on the top of my sewing machine. Sometimes technology is awesome, and sometimes just a tad frustrating!

1/4″ seams make sewing these a challenge

This is the stack I set aside to work on first, as they all have at least one side where 1/4″ seam may only be added to and leave 1/32″ showing. Is it worth it? Yes, as this is what will make the water look more like ocean that’s part of a wave just crashing on the beach. If you stand in ankle deep water and look very closely, there are bits of sand, rock, shells, leafy stuff, seaweed, tiny black fish, and about a million other things washing up on the shore. It’s these tiny pops of color that will make the ocean more interesting to look at – hopefully.

When I add on to this, you will just get a tiny hint of light green/blue in the foamy shore

That’s it. I’m keeping my head down and my spirits up, and will post more when I get a bit more of the “ocean” finished.

Make something good today!




Chaos, then website chaos, now calm

Posted on February 27, 2023 by Beth Markel

My last blog post was right after I had a torn rotator cuff that required surgery to repair. It’s hard to quilt with only one had, or in my case, only one arm that worked. Surgery went really well, and “vigorous” PT starts this week. I say all of that because I did not realize until much later that there were problems with my last blog post. Some people received it, no problems, and some received it, but photos would not load. Some people received it, and it was completely blank.

My sincere apologies!

So, I’m posting pictures of CHAOS completed again, and the piece I’ve been sewing on my machine, using only my left hand to guide the quilting. It’s a good thing that both wind and waves have movement in them, as I regularly wandered in this free-style work. The top was done prior to surgery, and it was very roughly basted. It’s only 30” x 30” and I stitched the binding with my left hand yesterday, which was a fun challenge, although I don’t recommend it if you’re right-handed.

Again, my sincere apologies if you had problems with the CHAOS completed blog a couple weeks ago. If you sent a comment, some I could read, and some only had symbols, numbers, or parentheses. No idea why or how, but I genuinely appreciate you hanging in there with me. I am also very grateful for the many kind words about the CHAOS work. Sometimes it really felt like I might not finish.

This is the wording on the Chaos label:


Including, but not limited to, turmoil, anarchy, madness, confusion, pandemonium, mayhem, uproar, bedlam, disorder, disarray, raising teenagers, assisting and   respecting elderly parents who sometimes no longer recognize you, death of a loved one, and a million other scenarios that wreak havoc in our daily lives. We all  experience chaos one way or another, the question simply becomes how do we deal with it? This somewhat insane piecing adventure began with an idea that chaos could be recognized in visual texture. It ignited a desire to bring order to overwhelming chaos in my life. There are 7,056 blocks, each ¾”  finished, made up of three pieces in each block, for a grand total of 21,168 pieces of  fabric. I have come to believe that persistence and calm are the antidotes to chaos.

Dimensions: 62” x 62” and completed January, 2023

The setting sun comes from numerous visits to Bonita Springs/Naples beaches in Florida. It was there we were introduced to a lovely daily event, where people bring their lawn chairs, wine, and blankets. For about an hour before sunset, people gather, chat, exchange stories, let the kids play in the darkening waves, albeit not very much more than ankle deep…and wait.

Sunset is a slow and often stunningly beautiful affair…and a moment after the sun sets, you see the rays just glistening across the tops of the waves. There is a pause when you know the sun had moved across the horizon, but it’s golden glow is still visible.

Then people applaud! How great is that?

Sunset at Bonita Spring Beach

See the beauty in the everyday.





Posted on January 31, 2023 by Beth Markel

I have not posted regularly since this project looks much the same, week after week. The variation from block-to-block is color, pattern, and shapes within each 3/4″ finished block. While all 3 of those design elements are critical, in such small scale you have to look pretty closely to discern them.

62″ x 62″
84 blocks x 84 blocks = 7,056 blocks

This would be a very different work if not for the tiny black/white fabrics, which lighten it up. Since there is no “pattern” but rather just chaos to look at, this is a good example of visual texture. It will be a while before I make another one of these, but I love how this looks.

Photographs by Johnston Photography, so big thanks!

Look at things in a new way today!

Cheers, Beth


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Posted on January 28, 2023 by

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Getting ready for cold weather~

Posted on October 29, 2022 by Beth Markel

It’s beautiful in Michigan when the leaves begin to turn color and the morning air in crisp when you step outside.  Change is happening right before our eyes, day to day, as trees turn vibrant red, yellow, orange, and sometimes even pink. They contrast beautifully, first as you can see through the fog when the sun is coming up, then later when the autumn sky is a clear, deep, cloudless blue.

The downside? Winter is coming.

For me that means more time in the studio, less time tending my flowers and herbs, but planning ahead in case we get snowed in.  I have an inkling it’s going to be a very, very cold winter, as squirrels are working over-time burying black walnuts from our neighbor’s trees. In the 20 years we’ve lived in this house, they have never been as active as they are now, storing up nuts. They put the raw, green walnuts someplace safe and sunny to dry for a few days, then come back and clean the outer layer off, burying just the walnut in a shell.

It took me a few days catch on what the squirrels were up to, as they have never been this busy prepping for cold weather. A few weeks ago, I actually asked my husband if he was punking me. I would come around a corner of the house, and there was a walnut in our windowsill, drying. A couple of days later, it’s gone. Then I realized underneath was a pile of green walnut husks. Squirrels can apparently scale a brick wall exactly like they scale a tree…straight up.

The upside? Black walnut husks for natural dye vats this winter.

Aside from watching the squirrels, cutting back all my Hosta, and clearing tomato plants, there has been grocery shopping, as I mentioned, just in case we get not just cold but lots of snow. I came around a corner in Aldi last week and saw these laundry hampers all stacked up – don’t laugh – but they inspired me. I have taken thousands of B/W photos over the years, before you could flip a switch in your camera phone and make lots of effects, including B/W. These just inspired me! The older gentleman pushing a cart towards me probably thought me a mite nutty, but when something inspires an artist, seize the moment.

Grocery shopping when I saw this. It inspires me!

Finally, what’s on my design wall? I’m still doing stitch-in-the-ditch on my Chaos piece, and I will be ELATED when it’s complete! It seems to have a mind of it’s own when I’m stitching slowly, but it might just be me, my mind wandering. It could happen.

My design wall has the Jazz 204 top completed, and it’s my favorite in this series so far:

While each block in this series continues to be 7.5″ x 10″ unfinished, this is my first attempt at pairing down the “noisy” elements in jazz, and just listening or seeing the primary melody, often a single instrument. Improv at it’s best.

Where this series began a year ago:

This is Jazz 101, 8 quilts earlier in this series. The evolution to simplify is pretty clear.

That’s it for now, but I’ll keep you posted. While the fog was so think this morning that you couldn’t see our mailbox at the street 40′ away, it’s turned into a beautiful, sunny, autumn day, and the hiking trails are calling.

Make something beautiful today, be inspired, and be kind.




Persist. You can do it.

Posted on August 3, 2022 by Beth Markel

For many of us in the past 2+ years, it’s been a time of shut-down, illness, loss, fear, frustration, and loneliness. At the same time, for some it’s been a time of renewal, from painting rooms, home improvements and renovation, to trying new recipes, online shopping (yes, our Amazon delivery gal is VERY familiar with our address!) and even experimentation from Yoga to Peloton to scented candles. All of this is to say that while Zoom may be the permanent ‘new normal’ for many meetings, it’s also nice to be able to walk into a quilt shop, grocery store, or bank and actually see people’s faces. When I walk in one of our local parks, it is wonderful to see the kids playing and running about without masks. It’s exciting! It feels like we are coming out of our protective shells.

During the time that I was recovering from knee replacement last year, I worked on hand-stitching because I could just sit and sew. A number of neglected projects were completed when the binding went on, and a number of baby quilts have already been delivered to expectant moms. While this was productive, it wasn’t what I wanted to be working on. I really wanted to complete ‘Autumn’ which was about 90% finished, and ‘Chaos’, which I have been quilting. Persistence may be the word most often used in quilting.

It takes creativity, ideas, and courage to jump into making quilts, whether they’re art quilts, traditional quilts, recycled materials, etc. It takes failures to learn what ‘the dreaded reverse-sewing implement’ AKA seam-ripper is used for, but persistence to finish! There is a sense of accomplishment when a quilt of any size, shape or variety is completed. I’ve been to many different guilds where Show-n-Tell participants say, “It’s just a top.” I jump in, asking with a somewhat incredulous voice, “Are you kidding? You completed a TOP! Hooray! That’s a huge accomplishment!” Because. It. Is. You have created something that did not exist until YOU made it.

On that note, I’m showing ‘Chaos’ as it’s being stitched… in the ditch…which is tedious. Only the top 1/3 is completed, but slow and steady wins the race.

Persistence builds character
…a lot of character

I also just completed ‘Autumn’ and can only say, HUZZAH! It’s also stitched-in-the-Ditch (SID) except for the sky area. It is 48″ H x 72.5″ W and is so heavy I’m putting a Nancy-Crow-Special Double-walled sleeve on it. It goes to the photographer next week, and honestly, while I’m glad it is finished, I really just want it to transport viewers to a ridge or boulder outcrop that looks over the glorious fire and gold of autumn trees on a crisp, sunny day. I am in the autumn of my life, and enjoying the fruits of summer, grown children, 2 grandbabies, and lovely family and friends. This is a tapestry of my life.

This is 4 ‘blocks’ put together. It’s a start…
September, 2018
January, 2019
July, 2020
Completed, July, 2022

Create something beautiful today – even if it’s just a smile at a complete stranger!




Squirrel! Shiny object! Squirrel!

Posted on June 23, 2022 by Beth Markel

It’s easy to become distracted when the weather is warm, the sky is a cloudless, summer blue, the birds are singing, and the flowers are in full bloom in Michigan. So many things to look at and do…SQUIRREL!

As a gardener from way, WAY back, helping my dad plant roses for my parent’s wedding anniversary every year, to trimming the Coral Bells and eventually harvesting tomatoes and Swiss chard, I would rather be outside than any place else this time of year. I have tomato plants, herbs, lettuce, sweet peppers, and pots and pots of annuals…but I still get up and sew every morning for at least 4-5 hours. I start the day watering and filling the Baltimore Oriol and hummingbird feeders, but immediately after coffee on the patio, I start sewing.  This “sewing first” has been my practice for many years now, but it also has to be a daily decision, especially when it’s easy to become distracted by the weeds that need attention, or the bright pink geraniums that need to be dead headed.

I have a feeling I’m not the only artist that struggles with time management and putting our art before the mundane of living and working, laundry, vacuuming, and even weeding. While all of the mundane has to be managed, I’ve become pretty good at throwing laundry in the washer, then skipping downstairs to sew. A couple of hours later when I take a break, the laundry gets tossed in the dryer. Multi-taking for everybody! I’ve discovered the great rewards of both Crock Pot and Instapot meals, which can bubble and stew all day while I’m sewing. Running the vacuum happens every Monday morning for 20 minutes before I turn my sewing machine on. What works for you?

As artists, we all have to determine our priorities, but there is joy, growth, struggle, and learning when we prioritize our art. Make the daily decision to prioritize your creativity and art! You’re worth it.

Following up with that, this is a series I started last autumn called “Jazz” which I’ve broken down into Jazz 101, Jazz 102… and Jazz 202 which I just finished today. One of the things I see emerging in this series is the importance of the rich black moving from background to quite distinct shapes that become the composition. This is really surprising to me, especially as I started out using the black as a background for the bright shapes and colors. Does anybody else notice the changing strength of the background becoming the interesting shapes?

Jazz 101
Jazz 102
Jazz 103
Jazz 104
Jazz 201
Jazz 202

Make something beautiful today!




What now? What next?

Posted on May 3, 2022 by Beth Markel

February 23rd I wrote a blog about not just what I was sewing, but also about how excited I was that carpet was being installed in our basement and my sewing room the very next day. After the basement flooded in August, it was a long haul to get everything fixed. Drywall was in shipping containers coming from China. Paint was in very short supply because a year ago Texas had ‘snowmageddon’ and most paint is produced using chemicals in a base that is manufactured in Texas. Because of the freezing temperatures, millions of gallons of paint were lost before it could be mixed and shipped. Who knew? Finally, I was pretty jazzed that my design walls were going back up. I was using thin, wobbly sheets of pink insulation propped up against the walls in our front entry way as a design board…not ideal. I was sewing on our dining room table and ironing in the living room. Not ideal. My Ott light and Oliso were destroyed that day in August when the ceiling came crashing down, soaked in all directions. However, after the carpet went in, things would be back to “normal” or so I thought.

With horror, over the next 24-48 hours the world watched as Putin invaded Ukraine.

It was as if the horrific black & white newsreels of WWII had come to life and were now being streamed in 24-hour news cycles.  Putin is a madman.

Within a moment, my small inconveniences of running up and down the stairs to sew and iron paled in comparison. I was embarrassed that I was happy about carpet going in when there were innocents being attacked, bombed, and, it turns out, shot in the streets.

Towns and cities were decimated, some eventually almost wiped from the map, and while historical buildings could be rebuilt from the rubble, people cannot.

Like many I have spoken to since the attack on Ukraine began, I was horrified and somehow completely indecisive about what to do, and how to help? Instead of working, sewing, or moving furniture back into my sewing room, I sat with my face glued to the news.

I wondered how ‘art’ would help? Does art matter when the world is crumbling in places like Ukraine?

I wondered how I could help? What could a single person do to make a difference?

Then Yo-Yo Ma set up his cello on the sidewalk in front of the Russian Embassy and played. He wasn’t dressed in a tuxedo, he didn’t have an audience of hundreds or thousands, and he wasn’t looking for accolades. As an artist, a musician in the highest musical echelons, recognized around the world, he simply set up his cello and began to play among homemade signs and sidewalk chalk statements protesting the Russian invasion.

Art matters, even when the world is in chaos.

Music matters, even when bombs can be heard in the near distance.

People matter, down to the last man, woman, and child.

So I stopped feeling lost and stuck, and began to do things.

I donated to Samaritan’s Purse because they were already on the ground helping the displaced refugees. Just this week (April 25, 2022) they delivered 15 metric tons of supplies to Poland where everything from hygiene kits to toilet paper will be trucked into Ukraine and the border area. They have also distributed thousands of hygiene kits (toothbrush/toothpaste, soap, washcloths, shampoo, etc.) to refugees flooding out of Ukraine. They have DART teams (Disaster Assistance Response Teams) in Moldova and Poland, in addition to Ukraine, many of whom are providing medical assistance to refugees.

I donated to UNICEF because their priority is getting clean water and medicine to people still in Ukraine, along with the refugees flooding out of Ukraine. They also focus on helping the children being displaced, along with the family unit, or whatever is left of a once-stable family unit.

Eventually, my husband installed one design wall and I have been sewing every day, often with the news on, but more often than not, music in the background. Yo-Yo Ma and his Goat Rodeo album, along with the follow-up album, Not my First Rodeo. I listen to Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Jimmy Dorsey, Ella Fitzgerald, Handel’s water music, Mozart, Journey, Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Holly, Beethovan, just to name a few.

I may never be able to stop bombs in another part of the world, but I can pray for and support the people and organizations that have boots on the ground, helping people I cannot reach by myself.

The Ukrainian people are amazing, brave, relentlessly optimistic, and will prevail.

Once I pulled my face from the 24-hour news cycle, I also began to sew.

Paul Klee inspired 20″ x 25″
Split Rail/Rail Fence #6, 53″ square
Split Rail/Rail Fence #7, 53″ square

Make something beautiful today.



Happy 2022!

Posted on January 21, 2022 by Beth Markel

Happy January, 2022! Apologies for not posting sooner, but C19 hit our household in December and for a number of weeks it was a slog. Very little sewing was happening, but it’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining, it’s new year, new day, new goals to be met, and projects to finish.

Last weekend I took a virtual Quiltfolk 2-day workshop featuring Kaffe Fassett. What an interesting designer, quilter, knitter and character! His sense of color, and his work in the fabric industry has been an integral part of the fiber movement all around the world. He has a new line of ribbons, manufactured in France, and they are gorgeous! Much of the interviewing of Kaffe and his partner was done by Jenni Smith, who has worked with Kaffe in designing quilts. Getting a peak into his house was an eye-opening experience. Color, pattern, more color, more pattern, mosaics, knitting, quilts, ceramics, paintings… you name it, it’s probably in his house somewhere in glorious and casual display. From the paintings in his living room to his antique quilts 3 stories above, there is something that grabs your eye in every square inch of space. I’m going to keep my eye open for workshops, as he’s coming to the US later this year. In the meantime, I’m thoroughly enjoying his newest book, “Kaffe Fassett In the Studio: Behind the Scenes with a Master Colorist.” It’s decadent and yummy!

As an update, I’m quilting ‘Chaos’ using stitch-in-the-ditch. After some tinkering, I decided this was the best way to highlight each individual block. It’s a little bit of a slow process, but I believe will be worth it in the end. When I get the first 2 rows done, I’ll post pictures. It’s boring from the back – maybe not boring, exactly, but really just a grid pattern that goes from side to side and top to bottom.

This morning I also finished the next small work in my Jazz series. This has been a really fun diversion from the grid mentioned above, and yes, I really do listen to jazz music when I’m sewing this series. For time management purposes (which I’m trying to work on!) I set aside 2 hours for these small quilts every morning. Yo-Yo Ma and the Goat Rodeo is one of my favorite albums to wake up to, along with Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington in the Songbook series, Count Bassie, Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays, Jaco Pastorius, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk… and 100 others, all brilliant and inspiring in their own right. It’s been interesting to also read about ‘Kandinsky’ by Helmut Friedel (author) while improv jazz is on in the background. Maybe it’s just me, but improv jazz makes me happy and I think a little more creative when I’m working in a completely improv way.

Jazz 103 was a completed top in December, and Jazz 104 was completed this morning. The Jazz 103 uses a gorgeous orange ombre I had in my stash, but I don’t think it photographs as beautiful as it is in person. The same is true for Jazz 104, although similar, it’s a Cherrywood red, much like a ripe, red tomato ready to pick from the vine and eat while it’s still warm from the sun. It’s difficult to see the design or suade-like pattern that is unique to Cherrywood in the pictures, but it, too, is much more colorful in person than in the pics. Each is 21″ W x 30″ H

Jazz 103
Jazz 104

Health and happiness in 2022!