Design Inspiration for Light and Life

Barbara Olson—Journey of an Art Quilter

Generating Ideas

journey of quilt artistSeveral years ago I purchased Barbara Olson’s book Journey of an Art Quilter. At the time I planned it to be a guide as I did more in combining art and quilting. It got put in the back of my book shelf as many other activities of the time took precedence. No, I am reading through it page by page and drooling over the life and vibrancy that she has incorporated into her quilts.  LindaKay Pardee has collected lots of images of Barbara Olson quilts and made them available on Pinterest.

 Barbara has written in her book: Using your brain is the slowest way to create. Using your intuition and feelings is the quickest way to create unique images. These sentiments are reinforced by what neuroscience has to tell us about how the brain ‘creates’. Barbara promotes meditation  (sitting quietly and slowing down the input to the brain) as a technique for preparing to create.

drawing light within Dr Judith Cornell, promotes Drawing on the Light From Within—imagery of light flowing through the body. This imagery inspires me to try to depict what gives life to design ideas. What is this light within that generates life—a creative life? Judith also has written several books on Mandalas—sacred circles. These objects are found in many different forms in most religious traditions—stained glass windows, tiled floors, Native American dream catchers to list a few.  A whole series of quilts based on mandala themes have been collected together into the Pinerest site Mandala quilting inspirations.

Kaleidoscopic Colouring

An inspiring work of what beauty can be created from scraps of fabric.

An inspiring work demonstrating what beauty can be created from small scraps of fabric.


The traditional patchwork design — ‘dahlia’ could be the beginning of a Mandala. Also the ‘mariner’s compass. Judy Niemeyer is renowned for her use of the basic mariner’s compass pattern; and Paula Nadelstern has created glorious visions using the kaleidoscopic technique. All of these I have tried in previous quilts. At one time I spent quite a bit of time working with Paula’s ideas.

Reviewing these images, I decided to try out the recommendations from How to grow a mandala. Prema Akasha has created a YouTube video to guide users through the initial method of drawing a mandala. Barbara Olson created her first one turning and connecting four uninspiring blocks.



A Representational Schema

I have engaged with Barbara Olsen’s exercises. Also, while attending the HQ Academy in the Blue Mountains, I have been reminded of the basic elements that are life and light—earth, water, fire, and air. The western philosopher, Aristotle, and eastern thought also add the heavens (aether, what lies beyond) as a fifth element. With space travel, and the exploration of the heavens I accept that there are five important elements of life and light. Depiction of these cycles are my challenge. I will think of the fifth element as the ‘life’ that is manifest by the other elements.The image below suggests symbols which could be used in the quilting pattern of the finished object. I am thinking that it should be circular, and could be a table top. It might even be appropriate for Phyllis to put on Grandma’s table.

The Chinese see these elements as interactive and ever changing and moving. They impact on each other in the cycle of life. Chinese philosophy suggests a cycle with metal and wood, air seems to not be included.

Wind/air, Fire, Earth, Water What depicts the aether?

Wind/air, Fire, Earth, Water
What depicts the aether?


  • Wood feeds fire;
  • Fire creates earth (ash);
  • Earth bears metal;
  • Metal collects water;
  • Water nourishes wood.


  • Wood parts earth;
  • Earth absorbs water;
  • Water quenches fire;
  • Fire melts metal;
  • Metal chops wood.

Designing with my HandiQuilter

handiquilter Actually, designing with the longarm quilting machine—my HandiQuilter Avante— is still some way off. At the moment it is new to me and I am experimenting with the designs that come with the machine. I am learning the mechanics, and the idiosyncrasies of the machine. I have the machine located on wooden floors. Despite careful leveling when setting up the table, I have found that the dry then wet weather still cause some concern with the smooth running of the quilter. I am learning to deal with its needle jumps. After I have the basics firmly established I will be able to experiment with different weights of wadding and different designs.

Bird of Paradise — King size

Bird of Paradise — King size

While staying with my Mother (in her nineties) a couple of years ago, we made several pineapple quilts. Mom wanted to learn the simple pineapple pattern developed by Karin Hellaby. The basic pattern is available here. We found that it was a great pattern that worked for an assembly line strategy where both of us could work on the quilt construction together. Mom did the sewing and cutting of the squares while I did the cutting of the squares, trimming, and marked the cutting lines. Once we got the technique right and the process, we started experimenting with different sized squares. Our early experimentation ended up as this king size quilt.  I needed to border some of the squares (the gold fabric) so that they would all fit together. The edging of the quilt then became triangles around the border.  Click on this link to see a YouTube video on ‘Sew Simple Pineapple’ 

A triangular section of the border. Quilted with the longarm quilting machine.

A triangular section of the border. Quilted with the longarm quilting machine.

I started  quilting of this large area when I first got the machine. The centre blocks are all quilted with different designs that came loaded with the ProStitcher computer software. (I have not been brave enough to do freehand long arm quilting.) Well, yes, I have had a couple of goes, but they weren’t very smooth. (I have very tense shoulders and need to learn to relax them.)

I found a website ‘my creative stitches’ that sells patterns for the long arm quilters. There is quite an array of these. Christy Dillon creates these patterns and digitizes them so that I can increase the selection of patterns which my machine will do (by itself!). Christy offers Free patterns  so that quilters can check that they work on their machine before purchasing others. Just by trying this sample I have learned more about using the options available on the LongArm. Thanks Christy.