Archive for the ‘Master Class’ Category

In 2017 I took an online class with Elizabeth Barton, which she called the Master Class. Each month she would email us a lecture and assignment. We had three due dates, a sketch on the 10th, a blocked quilt on the 20th, and a finished quilt at the end of the month. Throughout the months she would provide commentary and critique. It was absolutely the most amazing class, I learned so much, grew my skills, and produced a great body of work.

Of course life happens, and if you missed a deadline, you simply missed her critique, and you could jump back in at the next assignment. I only missed completing a few months, but do have the sketches still. And one quilt in particular was calling me to finish.

October’s assignment was Movement. I thought of capturing the movement of water in a river, and asked my sister who boats for a photograph inspiration. She sent the above photo on the Green River, in the early morning as sun hit the canyon walls. As I made my sketch and thought about the design, I realized I wanted to capture the movement in the canyon walls as well.

I completed my sketch in time for the assignment critique, but fell off the map after that (hello new job and first trimester pregnancy nausea). This past spring I pulled out the sketch again, wanting to finish the quilt before baby arrived.

After enlarging my first sketch to become a guide, I started piecing the canyon walls together. I drew on some of the piecing techniques shared in Maria Shell’s Improv Patchwork book to make the rock forms of each wall.

Looking back at my photos I see that I completed all the canyon wall pieces in November, and then life stalled. I’ll probably share in another post sometime how my creative mojo disappeared ( I guess growing a human can do that to you!). Luckily quilts are patient and fabric waits happily in a box for you to return.

In March, I took up the quilt again. I hung the canyon wall pieces on a small design board on my sewing table, and began to chip away at it, bit by bit. Some weekends I might only get twenty minutes done, but those minutes add up, and the quilt slowly came to life.

For the water I cut strips of blue and improv pieced them together with slight curves. I attempted to capture some of the sunshine sparkling off the cliffs by adding a couple small slivers of bright fabric.

Before all the pieces were done I decided one wall needed more rocks added. I was very happy I made the change when I did!

Instead of a raw edge appliqué, I decided to piece together the scene. This is a bit trickier with curvy seams…

… but I think 100% worth it. I love the final look, with the quilt top one continuous smooth piece.

Quilting was such a joy, adding another layer of texture and movement to the quilt.

The last touch to add … was the boatman! This I did decide to add as raw edge appliqué, on top of the quilt top. With so much happening in the quilt, and the abstract look of it all, I chose to make the boatman and boat in silhouette, with the faintest of details emphasized with the quilting.

From the beginning, I wanted to finish the quilt by mounting it on canvas as Cindy Griselda shares in her book Artful Improv. My sketch I had been working off of was the size of the completed canvas. Cindy outlines her technique at the end of her book, which starts with painting the canvas sides black, then gluing the finished quilt on the canvas.

And just a few weeks before baby arrived, I finished the quilt and was able to present it to my sister.

I really like how it turned out, the colors and quilting and overall feel.

Since I missed the deadline for critique from my class, what do you think? Does the quilt scene capture movement?

For me, it does. Sure there are a few things I would do differently next time. Ultimately, I appreciate how the concept of movement goes deeper than just the design. Finishing the quilt at a moment of so much transition in my life has marked the quilt and reminds me when I look at it.

Just as the river slowly eroded and sculpted the canyon walls, a movement that takes lifetimes, my daughter is transforming our lives with smiles and wiggles, a movement that fills every second of every day.

You can see all the posts about my quilts completed as part of the Master Class here: https://sewserena.wordpress.com/category/master-class/

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September’s assignment for the Master Class was focused on edges. Hard and soft edges. Lost edges. I had never learned about edges before, but once I started looking, you can find them everywhere. This is perhaps the most magical of illusions in art. Basically, lost edges are shapes or places that you don’t see. They could merge softly into the background, or be of similar value so you don’t see the difference between them.


I also had a separate project with our local quilt guild to make a fall colors quilt for an upcoming art show. So I decided to merge the two projects into one, finding this inspiration photo in our library of a close-up of aspen leaves in the fall.


For my first sketch, I thought I could make the leaves towards the front the hard edges, and the leaves in the back the soft edges. I thought to use lighter value fabrics in the background to blur their edges together.


I started with a fabric pull, without judgement, pulling out all the colors and fabrics I thought I might want to use. I had decided I wanted to focus my colors on a split complementary scheme, with blue and yellow-orange, orange, and red-orange.



Using my phone to take pictures and turn the fabric to grayscale, I then sorted by value. The two rows of the lightest value fabrics on the right would be my background.


I pinned up all the fabrics on my design board to test them out. I think they look pretty good!


It was exciting to see it come together. Piece by piece I cut and pinned and cut and pinned.


This is how to quilt looked when I turned it in for our blocked assignment. Elizabeth’s suggestions for modification included some shifting of the leaf arrangements, making sure the two stars of the show didn’t sit right on top of each other in a vertical line, and to adjust the background leaves so they weren’t too evenly spaced out. She also recommended changing the main leaves, their solid color doesn’t capture the beauty and interest of their natural variation.


I wholeheartedly agreed, so back to the drawing board I went (or rather, the dyeing board!). I traced the approximate leaf shape onto white fabric, and after soaking in soda ash, spread it out on the table like I was going to paint it. I then sort of dapped/painted various shades of orange (red-orange, orange, and yellow-orange!) onto the leaf.


I made two versions of each leaf for four leaves, as I wasn’t sure how my technique would work. For one set I made the shift between colors more gradual, and for the other set, I made the dabs more distinct. I also shifted the colors a bit in case one worked better than the other. Once I cut them out and hung them on the quilt, the gradual color change leaves stole the show.


At this point, I was getting pretty excited. There was a bit of work taking all the leaves off, piecing the background, and then putting the leaves back on, and gluing it all down.


To encourage the soft edges of the background, I decided on an all over quilting pattern that mimicked the leaf shape. I hoped it would help blur the edges and provide texture to the background.


It came out beautifully and was a pleasure to quilt! Then I glued on the stars of the show, the two aspen leaves.


Taking inspiration from the photo, I mimicked the leaf vein lines for the quilting on the large leaves. I used a lighter variegated yellow-orange thread. I was super pleased when I saw the final effect, it was more than I could have hoped for and wanted it to be. The leaves fairly sparkled with color and light. Yahoo!


Here’s the finished quilt, binding using the art facing method. 21″x28″. All fabrics hand dyed by yours truly. Raw edge applique and free motion quilted. Glue basting instead of fusible webbing.


It will be on display at the Mountain Rambler Brewery, as part of a Fall Colors collection through our local quilt guild, participating in the Chocolate Art Walk on October 28. I can’t wait to see all the other fall color quilts!

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July’s assignment was landscapes. Woo hoo! My favorite. We were challenged with picking a scene that we see daily, in our neighborhood or town. I chose a photo I took on an evening dog ride.


Summer temps reach the triple digits where I live, so we find it is bearable just after the sun sets, to get outside for a little bit. I love this image because it captures so many things that I care about, my family, my dog, where I live, and the mountains. I especially like the way the setting sun caught the tips of the mountains turning their colors orange and pink.


This assignment focused on learning how to simplify a photograph to its main elements, and to not be afraid to add or move pieces to make the composition better, or to take pieces away. It also emphasized adding in to your artwork the piece that grabs you and makes your heart sing.


After going through the process of making my first sketch, modifying it, enlarging it, choosing where values would go, I was ready to select fabrics. I made two decisions for this quilt, to use fusible webbing and to dive in and use my ice dyed fabrics!


For the sky, I selected a piece of fabric I painted at a Road class many years ago. I’ve been going through a bit of a use-what-I-have kick, pushing myself to stop treasuring the fabrics and just use them! Many have been sitting in my drawers and cabinets for many years. The result – I’m loving the process of using them, and I can always dye more!


Here’s my piece almost all blocked out, as I continued to make fabric and value decisions. I missed mid-July deadline for the blocked out submission, so at this point I was standing in for myself as critique.


Quilting the piece was playful and fun. I followed the shapes of the clouds in the sky, the topography of the mountains, and tried to add some patterning in the foreground to represent the sage brush we have here in abundance. I finished it with a no binding facing. The quilt comes in at 11″ x 17″.


I am super pleased with how it came out. I’m glad I jumped in and used my ice dyed fabric. And I am inspired to paint more skies.


Do you think I captured my love of where I live and the glint of the setting sun on the mountains? I think the pink and orange of the fabric makes the mountain tips glow.

P.S. You might have noticed a flurry of blog posts and finished quilts recently! I am just finishing up a two week staycation that has been absolutely lovely. It is a great feeling to finish a lot of items on my to do list. I’m all caught up with my master class, and well on the way to completing gifts for friends and projects for myself. Thanks for reading!

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For May, our assignment was to learn about depth. How to make a flat quilt scene look more realistic. The first assignment was to draw our chosen scene twice, once using the new depth tools we had learned, and second making it flat, ignoring all those tools. I chose to capture a moment when my mom and I walked the Cotswold Way in England last summer.


We were challenged to use at least four tools to indicate depth. I chose to use foreground interest (making the foreground more detailed), overlapping shapes, road perspective (wider the closer it gets), and size relationships (shapes in the background are smaller).


After the first sketch, I made a second to incorporate the suggested changes from Elizabeth. These included moving the post left, working on the road in how it meets the horizon and the way the edges curve, and adding more interest to the bottom right.


For this class, I also wanted to challenge myself to use only print fabric from my stash. I made value decisions on my sketch, and sorted and selected fabric to match.


I enlarged the sketch and started to cut out the fabric shapes, pulling together the scene. I chose to try the glue method again, skipping fusible webbing (I’ll go back to my fusible webbing on my next quilt. Jury is still out on which I prefer, they both have their positive and negative aspects!).


From this round of critique, Elizabeth suggested I crop down the sky, double check I like the position of the post, switch up some of the tree trunk fabric as the patterning was distracting, add more fabric to the post to make it look more realistic, and adjust the small tree at the end of the road. Back to the drawing board and cutting mat!

Once I had it all where I wanted it to go, I glued it down, quilted, and bound it! I decided to go with a double border to give it a framed look.


The Cotswold Way markers became very dear to us, as they let us know we were on the right track. There often wasn’t a good trail or road to follow as we crossed forest and fields!


I really like the act of making a quilt of a treasured memory. I can just see my mom ahead of me walking down the trail past the large oak trees, before we stop in the next village for a cup of tea.

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This quilt was started in March, where the assignment for the month focused on lines.


I chose to select a photo as my inspiration of a view up South Fork of Big Pine Creek, a hike up the watershed in the mountains above our home.

PicMonkey Collage

I managed to (almost) meet my first two deadlines, the sketch on the 10th and the (almost) blocked out quilt on the 20th.


The delay was partly life, as March got very busy. But also it was the size of the quilt. I went big! Elizabeth encouraged me to go larger, and so I did. (I don’t have the measurements, I forgot to take the final size before hanging it in the show! But I would guess around two feet high by four feet longish). This is definitely the largest art quilt I’ve made so far.

PicMonkey Collage2

The quilt sat on my design wall, waiting, for almost another month and a half, until, motivation struck again. As I’ve shared before, deadlines are wonderful motivators, and I had a deadline looming, but not a lot of free time. So I again fit in quilting whenever I could, in little 20 minute chunks, every day.


The second motivator for me was Instagram. Working in such small amounts of time, it was hard for me to feel like I was making progress. But each evening, I took a photo of whatever I had accomplished, and posted it to my Sierra Oak Threads account. Slowly, piece by piece, the quilt came together.


This quilt was unique (for me) in my construction method. Usually, I use a raw edge applique technique with my art quilts. Again, encouraged by my teacher Elizabeth, I pieced this quilt. For any of you who aren’t familiar with quilting, piecing straight lines is simple, piecing curves gets … interesting. I had no idea how to do it, if I could, or what it would look like. But I dove in head first. And it wasn’t too bad. I used a lot of pins. And a lot of steam pressing. And sometimes, I just let the crinkles and wrinkles be.

PicMonkey Collage3

The second unique construction piece about this quilt was the lines. On top of the challenge to piece the entire quilt, I also had the challenge of piecing in skinny lines between mountains. Again, lots of pinning. And lots of acceptance of crinkles and wrinkles.


Additional encouragement from Elizabeth was that all the lines in the quilt didn’t need to be the same color. So I had a dye day to make varying shades of black and gray fabric to use for the lines. I started with the darker color fabric in the foreground, working toward the lighter colored fabric for the background mountains.


One of my favorite moments in making this quilt was appliqueing the skyline. Okay, it is the only bit in the quilt that wasn’t pieced. The skyline had so many sharp angles, and was quite thick with layers of fabric, so I decided to not piece and applique instead. I really wanted this line to be clean and crisp. I like the texture that the fabric thickness made against the sky.


There is a texture to a completely pieced quilt that is so right, it is hard to put in words. No raw edges. One smooth surface. It was such a thrill to run my hand over the top, and feel the bumps and ridges and lines.


And then suddenly it was pieced. I hung the top on the design wall, and took a minute to just enjoy. And then promptly continued on, the deadline for the art show looming! Quilting and binding came together quickly, and I finished just in time to take the quilt on a hike.


It was a beautiful spring day with amazing wildflowers blooming. And it was so much fun to see the view that inspired the quilt after spending so many hours thinking about the view. I intimately knew the view, every mountain curve and point.


The next morning, I hung the quilt in the Mountain Perspectives art show at the Mountain Rambler Brewery. It will be there until October if you would like to see it in person!

I took so many pictures as part of the process, I thought it would be fun for you to see the quilt come together from sketch to finish. I used the pictures to get a sense of color selection, even switching out colors at the very last minute! And am so glad I did. There was one piece that had really been bothering me, and making the switch at the very end felt good. I wonder if you can spot the change?

It is a surreal feeling, to put so much effort and time into a project, and then be done. When I see the finished quilt, it is familiar, but strange too. In some ways, I know every millimeter of the quilt, inside and out. But in other ways, the finished quilt is a stranger that I am still getting to know, finished and on the wall. Sometimes when we go to the brewery, it’s like seeing an old friend after months apart.

I am excited to make another large sized quilt. There are unique challenges and opportunities to working bigger that I would enjoy exploring more. I would also like to try piecing another quilt. It does take longer than applique, but the result is different, and for some quilts, that might be the effect needed to achieve the vision. (I kept track of my time piecing, while in short 20-40 minutes bursts, took 16 hours to piece!! That doesn’t count the design or quilting process on either end, which probably added 4-6 hours).


Time to go for a hike and be inspired anew!




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Time passes, months roll by, and the Master Class continues, with assignments due on a regular basis. Our sketch is due the 10th of the month, the blocked out quilt is due the 20th, and the final is due the end of the month. I work hard to meet as many of the deadlines as I can, sometimes I do better than others. The deadlines are a great motivator for me to set aside time and make the space to create.

color scheme

April’s assignment was focused on color – my favorite! With as much as I love color and think I know a lot about it, I still learned a lot in this month’s lesson, and it rocked my world. Don’t be literal with color. The assignment was to pick out a color scheme, and make a sketch, and then put the two together. I knew I wanted to try to do a bristlecone pine tree quilt. What kind of color scheme could I do that wasn’t green and brown? I looked online for inspiration, and saw some great tree paintings, using brilliant oranges and reds for the trees. From one of the paintings, I came up with the analogous color scheme above, mostly orange, with green as the compliment, and the dark red as the accent color.

APR SLJ sketch 3 value sketch

For my sketch, I drew inspiration from a photo I had taken of a bristlecone on one of our many visits to see the ancient trees. In the first round of critique, my teacher commented on not needing the sliver of tree to the left (again, this theme with making art – you don’t need to be literal! Do what makes a good design. But I digress).  She encouraged me to add shadows to the trees, and to mimic the lines in the tree in the background landscape. And lastly, she commented on the leaf area looking clumpy. I agree with that! Making leaves on trees is always a challenge for me. This gave me something to ponder … how to make the leaves less clumpy?!


For the next step, I modified my sketch, incorporating the suggested changes. I enlarged my 5″x8″ sketch to 10″x16″, and was ready to select my colors!


I pulled out all my warms reds to oranges and laid them out. I took a photo and converted to grayscale to get a sense of value. I continued to select and sort, and take a photo and look and sort and rearrange until I had a smaller selection. For each fabric I matched it to an area on my value sketch.


Okay – this part took forever – and I would be curious to hear how you do this part if you have a better or different way! I took tracing paper, and traced each value/color piece on my sketch, basically making puzzle pieces. I cut out each tracing paper puzzle piece, then using that as a template, cut out each fabric puzzle piece, and then laid out on the background fabric in the position it was going to go.


Here is my blocked out piece for the second assignment due date of the month. I was so pleased with how it came out! After lots and lots of cutting and arranging, seeing it all together, the color scheme and design seemed to just make the quilt sing.

I always eagerly await the teacher’s comments, and was totally blown away when this is what she posted:

I love it!  the colors are wonderful…and you conveyed the slight anthropomorphic feel very well. everything is nicely balanced with the shadows and the “tail” (!).

I really like the mystery of it….and also the richness of those gradated colors.  It wouldn’t have half the impact if you’d used a mix of many different colors….the yellows to oranges in particular are so rich especially placed against those cool greens – nicely done!   You totally got the point of this exercise.

Wow! No further work needed, just carry on, except, the tree seemed to be listed to the right. I adjusted it a bit, rotating it to the left, and started to glue. Usually with raw edge applique, I use fusible webbing, but one of the women in our quilt group had said she likes to use basting glue, as it isn’t as stiff as the fusible webbing and gives a more natural look to the quilt. I was encouraged to try and was excited to try it on this quilt.


This part also took forever, carefully gluing down each little piece, lifting and gluing and placing back in the right place and adjusting and checking and making sure I got glue in all the areas it needed to go. The quilting came together quickly, and the little but mighty bristlecone pine tree quilt was done.


I am so pleased with how it turned out! And can see how it would be fun to work in a series when the correct subject is chosen. I could do many many more bristlecone pine tree quilts!

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I’m in the middle of my next quilt as part of the Master Class I am taking, focusing on lines. I’ve made a sketch of a mountain scene, and am in the process of turning it into a quilt. It’s quite challenging, but feels good to be stretching my skills and doing something that is hard to do (once the quilt is all the way finished I’ll have a proper post sharing more detail!).

MAR SLJ sketch 4

As I started pulling together fabrics to use, I realized I needed a few additional colors. So last Sunday, I had some free time to dye. Thinking of mountains, I wanted to dye a range of blacks and greys and maroons, with a few greens thrown in for the valley.


I started by dyeing a value gradation of the three colors I wanted to make, using Better Black, Brushed Steel, and Sangria procion dyes.


And then I got more playful. In the past, I’ve kept meticulous notes and followed careful directions to achieve specific colors. This time, I mixed and played at random, each new color a a delightful surprise.


I started with a bit of the black, and added a bit of golden yellow to lighten it. I then played around with adding golden yellow and sangria and brushed steel in varying amounts to various colors. I generally know how I got to each one, but it would be hard to recreate each specifically. Maybe that is a bit of the magic and why I love dyeing fabric so much. Each piece of fabric is unique and perfect and there won’t be another like it.


And then my favorite piece. Inspired by directions in Gloria Loughman’s book Radiant Landscapes, where she shares how to dye a gradient. For my last rectangle of fabric, I took the remaining black, grey and maroon, and dyed them in a gradient. I want to dye a lot more pieces like this. The possibilities for quilting and design are endless.

As for finishing my March Master Class assignment by the due date … I am very behind. Life got busy this month with fun and work commitments, and my extra energy and time for quilting hasn’t materialized. How do you catch up on projects when you get behind?

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February’s assignment was to explore the picture plane with shape, structure, and balance. A good design is an interesting design, with the shape and structure drawing the viewer in.


Poppies are one of my most favorite wildflowers, so I chose to make a quilt filled with poppies. I was also stoked at the opportunity to practice sketching. For my birthday last year, Aaron gave me Law’s Guide to Nature Drawing, and I’ve been itching to give it a try. I printed a photograph of poppies that I took, and started to sketch. I was thrilled at how following the steps in the book produced such realistic looking poppies. And I don’t even know how to draw!

FEB SLJ sketch 2

For the Master Class, each month is divided into three assignments. The first assignment was the sketch. I photocopied my poppies and played around with arranging them in different patterns and backgrounds. Above is the one I liked the most. The teacher’s comments were to try adding to the design with flowers in different directions and with stalks that bend a little. She encouraged me to show something different about poppies that I have observed myself.


I went back to my inspiration photo, and drew more poppies! I looked for poppies of different shapes and sizes to include in my design, drawing some that were facing the sun and some with petals that were more open.

FEB SLJ block

For the second deadline, I turned in my blocked out quilt. I continued to play around with the background design and color choice. The teacher’s critique here was to soften the background and really keep the focus on the poppies. I really like how she phrased this, so I’ll share it here, “It’s important to capture their essence, how they hold themselves and move in the breeze…rather than botanical details..” She ended with the encouragement to put my time into a lot of poppies!


So I went back to the drawing board! I looked for as many shapes and poppies to capture from the photo. This time I spotted the smaller poppies, that were still buds or just starting to bloom. Then I cut out as many poppies as I had patience and time.


For the assembly of the quilt, first I pieced the background and quilted the fabric layers. Then I arranged the poppies onto the quilt, and stitched them down in raw edge applique.


As I placed them, I continued to keep my inspiration photo handy, to check placement in order to really capture how they hold themselves and move in the breeze.


I like how the quilting adds the needed details to bring each poppy petal to life. I thought about making each petal a separate piece of fabric, but chose not to for simplicity. That would have made the small pieces of fabric that make up each flower really overwhelming!


The final quilt is small, 12″ x 16″. The teacher’s final encouragement was simply to suggest trying to make it as a larger quilt. That would be a really neat exercise, to try to enlarge the quilt. I wonder what I would change or keep the same? Probably adding more poppies would be good!


A little bit more about my inspiration. In September 2015, our family property where I grew up burned in the Butte Fire, as I’ve shared before. My mom spread poppy wildflower seeds, and in the first spring after the fire, they came up with abandon along the creek. This photo was taken in May 2016 when we visited the property. It was the first time I had seen the property since right after the fire. My first emotion was intense grief, when I saw how so much had changed and now looked different. But after spending the day there, hiking around, visiting, working, laughing and hanging out, my sadness went away and I felt comforted. The property still gave me the same sense of home. On the surface it felt and looked different, but the heart of the land was still there. The curve of the hill and the breadth of the sky was still the same. That’s what I attempted to share with this quilt. My memory of the sadness of what was lost combined with hope for the future and what awaits us just around the corner. Just as the poppies lean in towards the sun, ever hopeful and brave. Let’s all lean in towards the sun, bringing much needed color and joy to the world.


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I shared in my intentions for the year that I am taking an online class with Elizabeth Barton. January was the first assignment of the year. We were tasked with learning to see, sketch and use value. Working from a photograph, I made a sketch of the Point Reyes Lighthouse that we visited over Christmas.


The assignment challenged us to use only one color in light, medium, and dark values. I chose to use black, which meant I needed to dye some fabric!

img_2288It’s been ages since I had a dye session, maybe almost a year! It felt pleasurable, like seeing an old friend, pulling out my supplies and making magic in the kitchen. I dyed two colors, black and blue, in an eight value color way.

img_2300Black is such a fascinating color when reduced into values. It brings out the colors that make it black. Here, I discovered gray black tones of purple!


I had my sketch and I had my fabric, and then I pulled it all together. The assignments are divided into three parts throughout the month, first we turn in our sketch and receive feedback, then we turn in the blocked quilt, and have a second chance for feedback and making changes, and then at the end of the month we turn in our finished quilt.


The blocked stage isn’t stitched or secured down so that there is the opportunity to shift and make changes. The main lesson I learned in my design is that the literal truth seen in the photograph doesn’t necessarily make for a pleasing or interesting design. Small changes can be made to make the design a good one. I guess that’s why they call it artistic license!


This piece is small, 11″ x 15″, and the quilting came together quickly. Swirls and squiggles and wavy lines. I was trying to evoke the craggy rocks, breaking waves, and fog-filled sky.

img_2380The lighthouse looks little, perched on its craggy rocks against the grandeur of the ocean and sky. That’s how I remember it in real life, and how I wanted it to be seen in the quilt.

img_2403Here’s another picture of the lighthouse from when we visited last December. There are more than 300 steps to walk down to reach the lighthouse.

img_4021When the lighthouse was in operation, a lone individual would live there for months on end. Now that would be a wild job. Just you, the rocks, and the surf.

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