A Word (or Two!) About Composition

Sandra Bruce posting today. I have had many people ask me in the course of teaching my technique “Material Matrix” about what makes a good photograph to turn into a quilt. I would like to do a brief “Show and Tell” using photographs from my own library of photos to illustrate a few points that I think are helpful, both in making quilts and just taking photos in general.

First, I feel strongly that scale is one of the most important elements of  good design. It’s OK to get CLOSE. Plopping your subject in the middle of your background with space all around can be pretty boring, especially if it’s dead center. (There are exceptions to this, however.) Getting close to your subject brings the viewer into your quilt or photo. Here’s an example below:  It’s nice and close, but the cropping is awkward, especially on the right, where his mouth gets chopped off.

: asleep floor:in red pjs4

What happens when we get even closer? Whoops!! Too close! Let’s try again.

: asleep floor:in red pjs 3 Perfect! This is now a great photo and would make a good quilt design. Nice balance of elements, a couple of diagonals lines (always good in a composition) and good values of light to dark.

: asleep floor:in red pj copy

Here’s a photo taken at Fort Ross State Park here in California. It’s a nice enough photo, but there isn’t much of a focal point, and your eye doesn’t know where to go first. The fort is too far away and the trees dominate the image.

10 2002_0221_114334AAThis is much better. The scale of each item has more variety, and the diagonal of the fence makes a nice complement to the vertical trees and brings you into the scene. With some tweaking this could make a nice quilt.15 2002_0221_114756AA

Flowers are such a popular subject for photographs and quilts. Here are 3 examples of nice compositions that have a lot going for them. Notice they’re fairly close up.IMG_4355IMG_0524_2


The quilt I made called “Matteo and the Amaryllis” is a good example of cropping to get to the essence of the image. Here’s the original photo I took, and below it, the cropped version. I wanted to focus on his profile, and the flower. The background and hat are unimportant. Notice the tip of his nose on the flower in the cropped version is not dead center, it’s a better place for the focal point!IMG_5898

MP amaryllis cropped

 Here’s a photo of an old car that could be interesting in a quilt, but you have to use your imagination to think of how it might become a better composition. Off the top of my head, I would take out the bikes and the houses in the background, focusing on the car only, and change the car color to give more contrast between the grass and the car. What I’m getting at is that sometimes a photo needs work but has potential to become a good composition. Playing in Photoshop or even cutting out color copies to get what you want can make it work for you.


Sometimes something as simple as changing the vantage point of the camera can make a better photo. Here I put the camera on the counter looking up at these pickle jars. Wouldn’t this make an interesting quilt?IMG_2879_2Lastly, here’s the photo I’m using for the quilt I just started, my son Matteo again, in black and white this time. I wanted to challenge myself to work in black, white and grey only. I love this photo for its simplicity, value changes, and how it captures his expression, which will be the biggest challenge.M quilt b:w ideaBe brave in taking photographs to use in quilts. Play around until you have what you want. Get close. A good quilt image starts with a good photo! All the photos in this post were taken by myself or Gary Pierazzi.

I hope you have gained a little something from this post. We all (Artistic Alchemy) appreciate hearing from you. We’re getting excited about our Zephyr Cove Retreat and I can’t wait to see what participants create! Have a good week, everyone.


Why Do We Take Workshops and Classes?

by Sandra Bruce

Recently I spoke at my local guild, Pine Tree Quilt Guild in Grass Valley, CA and taught my workshop the next day. It is very gratifying for me to teach my technique and watch ladies grab the concept and say things like, “I know I’ll use this again sometime in another application”, or, “I have a newfound appreciation for what you do, and I love this technique. I learned something new today!” Here’s Gabby, happy with her success!:


Granted, we may not be interested in every class that comes along. But it’s funny how even in a class we think won’t be the most gratifying we do sometimes learn, even if it’s not immediately applicable, and it can pop up in our brains at a later time when the knowledge can benefit us in some way. The world of quilting is rich with knowledge, and how will we know our potential and find what “rings our bell” unless we try new things? Even ones that seem scary, daunting, or not necessarily the most interesting at the moment?

To give you an example, for a very long time I shied away from anything that involved curved piecing. Without even knowing anything about it I avoided any project that would require it. It just had to be hard, right? One day an opportunity came up to take a class from one of my favorite local teachers, Cathy Stone, in curved piecing, so I took it, gritting my teeth for the worst. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I had made a mountain out of a molehill and in truth, there really wasn’t much to it. It opened a whole world to me, and in hindsight if I hadn’t learned how to do that I wouldn’t’ve been able to develop my Material Matrix technique which depends heavily at times on curved piecing.


Another example, also a class with Cathy Stone, involved taking a photograph and adapting it to fabric, using fusing as many quilt artists are doing today. I very much enjoyed the class. What did I learn? That while I enjoyed it, and learned how to reproduce a photograph with accuracy, that it wasn’t something that “rang my bell”. However, I knew that someday the technique involved would come in handy. And it has! Also, it showed me that reproducing a photograph precisely with perfect edges is actually the opposite of what I want to do. And that’s OK too. This is how we learn. This is how we find out what we want to do as quilters and artists.

In classes we sometimes learn something that isn’t what we thought we’d learn. It’s even possible that we can learn something about ourselves that we didn’t know before. Something as simple as making a new quilting friend in class can ultimately guide us in a direction that pushes the envelope for us (I’ve heard this more than once). There are so many benefits to taking a class or workshop. Every time we learn, we add to the sum of what we know, what we can do, and who we are as quilt artists. Lucky are ladies who have quilting sisters, actual or not. Happy sisters Cathy and Bobi!


In a nutshell, I say:  LEARN SOMETHING NEW!

I believe Artistic Alchemy, consisting of myself, Christine Barnes, Heidi Emmett and Sharon Alves, fosters this belief, and we as a group hope you will learn something new about yourself by taking one of our workshops. We learn from you, too. Actually, we 4 learn also from each other, and that makes us tighter as a group, and as a result, I believe, better teachers.  I myself vow to take more classes and keep my “little grey cells” working!


In closing, please leave a comment if you wish, we love hearing from you. It helps us know what you, our readers, are interested in, and how we can better teach what you want to learn. Suggestions always welcome.

Happy Easter and Spring, everyone!




Spiraling Out of Control!

by Heidi Emmett



I love spirals and I am out of control on the ideas. I can’t STOP making them. Below are many different types of spirals. I will show you ALL of them at Zephyr, demonstrate SOME of them, and have you make SOME of these beauties in our workshop. Each month I will be showing a different technique that will be worked on by you at our retreat. All are fun and easy to do (or I wouldn’t make them)!




I love how beads, fabric, and yarn, make for some yummy spirals. Just wait until you see how I use these, and you will be able to too!



There are spirals within spirals, or is it a fractal? DSC_0599

Yarn spirals that will be attached with beads. Yum, yum!


I did this when my machine was giving me fits so excuse the weird stitch lengths. Love the sparkles in this spiral.


Beading, will be discussed and hopefully have time to try some of my techniques. So bring beads you already have. Don’t buy any, unless you have to or want to.


My helper, Rubix. What a silly cat! I leave you with visions of spirals dancing in your head. The fabulous view rooms are going, going,….so sign up soon! Love to have you in my workshop. Fun and creativity will be the name of the game. Hugs, Heidi