Review, Blog Hop & Giveaway: Sarah Ann Smith


Sarah was kind enough to ask me to participate in this blog hop. Although I did write a bag review for Purse Palooza at the request of Sara over a Sew Sweetness, I feel like this is a different kind of thing. Thus I am sticking to my guns and saying that this is my first blog hop! Please be kind! I am so thrilled to be part of this blog hop. There are so many great artists who did the September round and now another group of fabulous artists doing the November round.

Bonus and Prizes

There will be a giveaway on my blog.  I have one DVD to give away thanks to Sarah and Interweave Press. You can win this DVD by leaving a substantive comment (e.g. ‘s,ign me up!’ will not work), such as telling me what you thought of the video if you saw it or a clip, telling me what you thought of the review or something else. Sarah may read the posts and comments as well, so throw the girl a bone. 😉 You must leave the comment on THIS post.


I will pick the winner, contact the lucky winner and then send the contact info to Sarah who will get the DVD to the winner.

Sarah will be having a Grand Finale at the end, sometime in late November or early December (I’ll let you know), which will include additional goodies to win from MistyFuse and Havel’s Scissors!

Background and Purchase Details

I have known Sarah for awhile, mostly through an online group to which we both belong. I have enjoyed watching her career and cheered her on as she has reported her quiltmaking successes. This DVD/online workshop is just the most recent in a long line.

The following is from the Interweave email announcing her video, which I thought was a great description: “According to Sarah Ann Smith, not creating would be like not breathing: not possible! Sarah learned to sew after a neighbor girl made an apron for her doll when she was 6; when she found quilting, she knew she had found her passion: art and sewing. A former US diplomat, she draws on her years living in South America, Africa and North America, as well as her travels to Asia and Europe. She specializes in machine work and coloring with thread. Sarah is the author of ThreadWork Unraveled, lives in Hope, Maine, and has a husband, two sons, four cats, a pug and too many ideas!” Sarah’s website is a gateway to all things Sarah Ann Smith. You can reach her blog, store and a gallery of her quilts as well as tutorials, videos, her free bibliography, class supply lists and much more. Her site is very well done.

Art Quilt Design
Art Quilt Design

The video, a $14.95 download from Interweave Press, is called Quilting Arts Workshop: Art Quilt Design from Photo to Threadwork with Fabric Collage and Machine Quilting by Sarah Ann Smith.

The video is a workshop which teaches you her “collage process, from selecting the best photo for your first effort at this technique, to fabric selection, patterning, fused collage, to threadwork at either the top or quilting stage.”

  • Digital download or DVD
  • Available from Interweave
  • Available to international quiltmakers
  • 1 hour 16 minutes in length (first 30 second or so are the FBI warning)

Meat and Potatoes

The first thing I noticed was that the video started in my browser kind of suddenly after I clicked on the link in the email. I don’t watch a lot of videos-I have to actually watch them, which interferes with my sewing productivity, so I prefer audio only so I can sew while I listen-so I don’t know if this is normal. I was able to stop the video with the normal type of computer video controls, so it was no problem. I am thinking that this is a setting on my computer that I would do well to adjust.

I was under the impression that this was a free motion quilting video and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was so much more. Students learn how to:

  • Select a photo for your composition.
  • Choose fabrics, prepare them with fusible web, and alter them with textile paint.
  • Create the working pattern.
  • Fuse the quilt top.
  • Use free-motion machine quilting to bring the fused design to life.
  • Discover Sarah’s strategies for creating an artful machine-stitched fabric collage!

The workshop starts out with an interview with Sarah. One thing that stuck out in my mind, from that interview, is that she says to “learn and be proud of every project you do.” This is absolutely right. You cannot get better without practice. Sometimes the practice means ending up with projects that are not as successful as your next one will be.

The interview sets a tone of encouragement. The tone is positive and upbeat and made me feel like I could do whatever Sarah taught. This tone is continued throughout the video.

The next section discussed materials. After a brief introduction Sarah gets right into the discussion about the supplies, starting with the photo. I liked this part, because she doesn’t just say “take a photo”; she tells us what makes the photo good for her process, the things to look for in a photo and what to avoid. Even in this early stage of the video (2:03), I get the impression that she has thought a lot about the process.

I am skeptical when people describe products which they would like me to use. Do you know how many specialty items I have from classes and projects? I always wonder if I have to have that particular brand or if I can use something I already have on hand. When describing the materials, Sarah tells you why she likes a particular product. She mentioned Saral (remember I told you about that in one of my tutorials?), but also mentioned something similar called Transdoodle (3:58). In the discussion about the two products, she gives the pros and cons. One thing she said about Transdoodle is that it had a heavier chalk layer. That means that I can get more uses out of one sheet. I may have to get some and try it out.

Five minutes in, Sarah is showing the student her method of selecting fabric and giving some hints on painting on fabric. Sarah talks about commercial prints, batiks and hand-dyes. She gives her preferences, but doesn’t disparage the use of any types of fabrics (6:10).

The fabric selection includes modifying fabric using materials such as paints, pencils and judicious cutting to get the right shades and textures. Throughout Sarah tells us why a particular fabric works or doesn’t for the piece.

I also liked it that Sarah gave some practical and useful tips on fusing (9:30): why she uses a certain type of iron, what she uses to clean it in case of a fusing mishap and maintenance of her pressing sheets. The whole time I watched I was thinking of Pam and her Miss Jingle quilt and SherriD with her Unicorn quilt. I am sure they could have used some of the techniques that Sarah shows. I was really impressed with the amount of detail included. It was really useful. It made me think that fusing wasn’t so bad.

Design and composition follow fabric selection (17:55). This is the longest section of the video and really gets into making the bones of the piece. The first part of this section talks about the photo. Sarah gives some examples of variations of the photo she eventually started to use. I was pleased to hear her use terms that we have learned about in the design series.

I was also very interested when Sarah talked about the light in relation to how the light source was positioned and how our eyes perceived the light (20:50). I think that little tips like this, even if I never do her technique, will help me be a better quiltmaker.

Sarah shows two methods of creating shapes (~30:00) for your composition. This is a great addition to the video, because not all of us learn or work in the same way. Having a variety of methods from which to choose makes the video more useful. I also think that there is an appropriate amount of detail. Not too much so as to be boring and not allow for creativity, but enough so that the viewer can make the project while having a bit of leeway to inject what s/he knows about art quiltmaking.

Sarah's Thread
Sarah’s Thread

Remember I said I thought this was a free motion quilting video? Well, Sarah doesn’t disappoint in the free motion quilting department (43:08), though she does not show you in detail how to FMQ. She gives an overview of the important parts in relation to her workshop: needles, thread, FMQ design. Her information will be helpful in conjunction with some of the other FMQ workshops, books and videos out there.

The beginning of this section is really appealing, because of the way she has the thread laid out. During the thread preparation section, she reiterates the issues with the darks and lights that she brought up at the beginning. She also talks about her process, including describing how she works at the machine. For those of not used to working with a lot of thread changes, this conversation is very helpful.

I was pretty impressed with her stitching. She uses a darning type foot (not hopping) and has set the feed dogs to the down position. With these parameters, her stitch quality is excellent. The stitches are small, but not microscopic and relatively even in terms of length. I was also impressed with how a fabric blob suddenly turned into a shadow with nothing more than a little stitching over the top of the fabric. The stitching really smoothed out the lines of the fabric pieces.

The last part of the video is called Gallery and Conclusion (1:10:30) and this is the place where Sarah talks about moving on to your own photo. Using some of her quilts, she explains what she did to make certain quilts work, including where she used precision vs blob fabric pieces. I liked her tip on quilting with light thread in the background to enhance contrast.

Throughout the video, there are hints. Some include such things as protecting your furniture, features of products, details of using particular products and things to watch out for when using her preferred products. Sarah gives examples from particular pieces of her work in relation to the tips. She also gives alternatives, where possible, for tools and supplies that the viewer may not own and may be too expensive or too specialized to purchase. While some of them may seem like pure common sense, the way she interjects them at just the right moment makes the tips and hints even more helpful. They are in context, which helps me remember them when I am actually doing the same action. Something along the lines of muscle memory, I think. This workshop reminds me so much of being in an EBHQ class!

Clearly the techniques take practice if the viewer wants to get as good as Sarah, but she takes the fear out of a lot of the steps with her clear instructions and tips and tricks.

Technical Difficulties

When watching a video, I find that my computers stops and downloads/processes in the middle of the video, which degrades my viewing experience. As a result, I have learned to let the video download and then start watching after most (or a lot) of it has downloaded. I had some trouble with this video. I really think that it had something to do with my computer or the user (me!). This has nothing to do with the production or quality of Interweave/Quilting Arts products. I downloaded the video twice and even after turning off the sleep and hibernate modes on my computer, I wasn’t able to download past about 55 minutes within my browser (Firefox). I was able to fix this by going to my Interweave account, finding the download link and saving the video to my computer. The video took about an hour to download, but then I was able to watch the last 20 minutes.

Wrap Up

I was reluctant about this video in the beginning, but also determined since I committed to helping Sarah with her blog hop. I was pleasantly surprised. This is a great video and I don’t think you would be disappointed. From early on in the video, I felt that not only that could I do Sarah’s collage technique, but that I wanted to do it. Throughout the video, I added some of the supplies she mentions to my Amazon Wishlist and felt excited about using some of the products that had inspired some reluctance in me in the past.

Mean Mom Stuff

The giveaway will be open for 3 days only. It closes officially on Nov.22 at 6pm PDT, so leave a substantive comment NOW. I may not actually get to choose the winner until November 23, but no whining if you can’t leave a comment at 6:01pm.

More Chances to Win:

  • November 14:       Marie Johansen
  • November 16:     Brenda Gael Smith
  • November  19:    Jaye Lapachet (You are here! That’s me!)
  • November 21:     Susan Brubaker Knapp
  • November 23:     Lisa Walton
  • November 26:     Daphne Greig
  • November 28:     Sarah Ann Smith     Sarah writes “Yep–it is US Thanksgiving that day…I’ll write mine up in advance!  Or maybe I should do mine on Black Friday (the beginning of the holiday shopping season the day after…)” Sarah claims this will be The Grand Finale including goodies from MistyFuse and Havel’s Scissors!

Nota bene: I have included some time codes where appropriate as a kind of citation. I hope this is helpful.