soaring stitches: blog book

soaring stitches: blog book

By Patricia Belyea

WAUCONDA WA  Over a year and a half ago, I started writing a book about creativity for quilters. Many early mornings, with a coffee in hand, I scratched out my thoughts about how to make a quilt. Once the manuscript coalesced, I hired one of the top book designers in the country to take on my project and I began discussions with printers about producing my book.

It was a radical change in direction when I decided that my book would not be a book. Instead I’ve chosen to publish each mini-chapter as a blog post. That way folks don't end up with one more physical item in their lives. And distribution over the web is much easier for everyone.

So welcome to my new book: Soaring Stitches—Creativity Snippets for Quilters.

To follow is the Introduction:


As far as I know, Kitty Pippen stands as the foremost American quilter to use Japanese textiles in her creations. Kitty made her first quilt when she was 70— a king-sized composition with facing cranes in the center and a border of curved indigo piecing. The hand-stitched quilt won first place at the national quilt show in Paducah. 

At the age of 97, spry Kitty began to decline. I asked Kitty’s daughter Sylvia if I could bed-sit with Kitty. That meant visiting, even if Kitty was asleep, so I could be in her presence.

Kitty was dozing when I slipped into her apartment at the senior living center in La Conner, Washington. Sitting quietly, I started stitching an ongoing English paper piecing project. Before I knew it, Kitty was awake and I was helping her sip some water through a straw.

After a short hour, Sylvia arrived. It was time for me to go so I said my goodbyes. Outside I reflected on the fact that I would likely never see Kitty alive again.

At a nearby restaurant, Sylvia soon joined me for lunch. Sylvia reported that Kitty said just one thing about me after I left. “What’s her shtick?” Kitty asked.

I was immediately self conscious. Could the almost other-worldly Kitty see some ulterior motive in my actions? Was my purpose in visiting Kitty determined by personal gain of some kind?

Kitty’s words certainly troubled me until recently. Then I began to see them as a gift. What an important query!

What’s my shtick? What do I really care about? Where’s my passion? In reflecting on the question, I came up with three clear answers—creativity, quilting, and Japan.

I believe that creativity continually transforms and engages. The challenge of making a quilt wakes up a life force of divining and determination. And the little islands of Japan produce some of the most remarkable textiles in the world. Kitty and I shared the same shtick!

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  • Judy Lawrance

    Wow! What a treasure your email is today! It is filled with helpful, inspirational information for us— as lovers of fabric , quilts , and quilting— as an art form or as a useful but beautiful object—filled with memories— and even our DNA…
    Thank you!!

  • Patricia Belyea
    Guiliana—Kitty was always kind and generous. Don’t forget to buy a little something from Sylvia’s show as well! PB

  • giuliana nakashima
    I have fond memories of Kitty. Many years ago now, as a young girl in Missouri of Japanese heritage I was so taken when I found her work, I had to contact her and some how I found my way to her and she took my call and you can’t imagine the shock I had when I found out she wasn’t Japanese! lol. Yet, years later I moved to La Conner and I ran into her and Sylvia at one of your events. She remembered my call and again was so kind. Thanks for reminding me of her and reminding me I should call Sylvia and I should ORDER more Yukata from YOU.

  • Patricia Belyea
    Mariss—I’ve come up with a a new word—blook. That’s a book that’s published on a blog. Ha! PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Jeannie—Yes, there is a refreshments counter in the hardware/general store. I’m not sure it would be as you remembered and I haven’t seen any milkshakes. I’ll look into that next time I am there. Knowing Kitty and spending summers at Lake Curlew—both special memories, I’m sure. PB

  • Mariss Stevens
    How generous of you to make your book available online.

    Can’t wait for the next installment

  • Patricia Belyea
    Irene—That sounds like Kitty! A great teacher and a generous spirit. PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Peggy—You must belong to the Central Coast Quilt Guild. I’ll be joining your group for a Zoom presentation in November. And I’ll be teaching online in the new year. So you can take a class with me then! PB

  • Peggy Carmichael
    Because of Covid a class you had scheduled at our local guild was cancelled and I was so disappointed ! I am looking forward to learning from you. Thank you!

  • Irene M Nichelson
    My daughter and I also had a class with Kitty at Road2CA. She was a loving and caring teacher. She was living in Hawaii on the Big Island at the time and invited us to stop by and visit with her on our next trip to the Islands.

  • Jeannie
    What a beautiful story. I am looking forward to more chapters in your blog book. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. Kitty is one of my heroines. (Does the general store in Republic still have the old fashioned soda fountain? We spent summers at Lake Curlew and the highlight was to go to town to do laundry and get groceries. Each trip was culminated with a milkshake at the store. It was served in the ice cold metal container and so thick you needed a spoon.)

  • Patricia Belyea
    Antonia—Did you know that Kitty published her first book at the age of 80? So glad she did! PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Frances—Yes, Kitty is a wonderful quilting luminary. But she never put a light on herself. Instead she was a brilliant, creative person who was always interested in learning more and challenging herself. PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Frances—I visited Kitty a few times near the end of her life. One time she said to me “What am I going to do with all these quilts?” Audaciously, I replied “Give one to me.” And so I have one of Kitty’s sashiko sampler quilts! PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Judy—Yes! I am so pleased to know the Pippens. Both Kitty and Sylvia are very special folks. PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Helen—Thank you. I look forward to delving into all the facets of creativity with my different snippets. PB

  • Antonia Lozon
    Seeing Kitty Pippen’s first book on using Japanese fabrics to make quilts was what really started my love affair with Japanese fabrics. While in Japan, I visited craft stores with their overwhelming array of fabrics, so many that choosing a few to bring home was almost impossible. Kitty was a real inspiration.

  • Frances D Moore
    Brillant post. What a gift to visit such a quilting legend. I look forward to future insights from you.

  • Helen L. Thompson
    What a great post!! Thank you for sharing

    Helen Thompson

  • Judy Chaffee
    Excellent post, we gravitate toward our hero’s!!

  • Patricia Belyea
    Suzanne—We need to be inspired to keep making quilts, if that’s our inclination. But we also have to keep making our own lives—growing and changing—COVID or not. PB

  • Suzanne Kalish
    Love, Love your blogs and hearing about all you’re doing these days! Feels like “yesterday” my two friends and myself drove over to your shop in Ballard….

    always enjoy using your fabrics— we never stop growing, hopefully… This book-blog is wonderful and very inspirational these continued days of Covid isolation… thank you!!!

  • Patricia Belyea
    Linda—Not only have we both shared the joy of knowing the Pippens, I lived in Toronto as a young woman—working at the Toronto Metropolitan Library. So nice to meet you. PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Helen—Kitty was a top teacher. Every time we crossed paths, she would put on her teacher hat and give me some advice on whatever I was doing. She was a born teacher! PB

  • Linda Stephen
    Hi Patricia -

    How good to see your blog. I always look forward to your news.
    I was thrilled to see your tribute to Kitty Pippen. I came to know about her in a roundabout way. At a Toronto bookstore, many years ago, I purchased a book by Yoshiko Jinzenji, the amazing quilt artist. Out of curiousity, I did a bit of research and found that she would be teaching a workshop at The Textile Museum in Toronto. At that time, I had no idea who she was, but did enjoy the “cushion” workshop. One of my tablemates mentioned that I might like the work of “somebody” Pippen. Eventually, the local bookstore found Kitty’s book. It was (and still is) fabulous. Somehow, I learned that Kitty would be teaching at the Empty Spools Seminars in Asilomar, so I signed up and made my way there from Toronto. It was an amazing week with both Kitty and Sylvia, with Kitty being the artist in residence. That was 2005 according to my signed copies of their books. The was the beginning of my “romance” with Japanese textiles.
    I last saw Kitty when I took a class with Sylvia in La Conner. Sylvia brought her to her Indigo Stitch shop so we could say hello. I still hear Kitty’s calming voice as she guided us through the class at Asilomar. Both she and Sylvia have been a major influence in my love of textiles. The best to you in this project. Should this ever become a book, I will have it.

  • Patricia Belyea
    Andrea—I promise it will be more rewarding than buying an airplane ticket and soaring in the skies. PB

  • andrea bursaw
    What an ingenious idea! I’m ready to soar!

  • Helen Zung
    I was privileged to have a class with Kitty in 2003. She was so patient, so nurturing, so warm. Kitty was my first and forever quilting mentor and inspiration. I’ve made many quilts based on her designs, and still have “Quilting with Japanese Fabrics” close at hand. Kitty’s memory is a blessing for me.

  • Jane Sowards
    Little did I know when I visited Sew Special quilt shop on the island of Maui in January 2020 that I was entering a new world of sashiko and Sylvia Pippen Designs. I bought a panel as a momento of my visit. Liked the sashiko handwork, bought all 10 panels when I got home and am almost finished with those. Such fun to work on. Reading what I can to learn more. I am 83, maybe I will live as long as Sylvia’s mother (my mother lived to be 100) and continue to be creative. My work isn’t perfect but very fulfilling.

  • Patricia Belyea
    Jane—I’m so glad that you are having fun hand-stitching. Kitty was still making hand-stitched quilts in her nineties so you have a great luminary to follow. It’s perfect that your stitches are imperfect. We are not machines and our stitching should tell a story of who we really are! PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Pat—Thank you. I look forward to seeing your Hachi Quilt when you are finished! PB

  • Pat
    I love your blog and look forward to finishing a quilt I started using your book

  • Patricia Belyea
    MJ—Great to hear from you. So glad you are so engaging with your fabrics and making. Enjoy! PB

  • Mj Buckingham
    Loved your initial blog and look forward to each entry! Congratulations! I am working on a challenging project, creating the pattern and stitching as I go along to integrate old and new Japanese fabrics. Sometimes, the work part is just endless stitches to achieve what’s in my head and heart. I often reference your book and the books of Sylvia and Kitty for encouragement and problem-solving. Your question-to-self is an apt one for me as I imagine and ponder through this project and those that follow.

    Thank you!

  • Betsy
    Looking forward to this! Thank you. And like someone mentioned I bought Yukata from you way back when you were in a little loft /apartment on 3rd NW. How did I find you there? Not sure if I got a vest pattern from you too…or found you for the fabric for the vest. Classes have been difficult for me even though I dreamed them. So this blog will be really inspiring. Thanks again.

  • Patricia Belyea
    Betsy—What a sweet memory. The shop has been transformed into a stockroom for our online store. Not many folks made it there during the five years we were open to the public. PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Michele—I knew about Kitty and then met her when I was in La Conner teaching a workshop. It was love at first sight! Also, Kitty gave me one of her sashiko quilts which I cherish! PB

  • Michele
    Thank you for sharing. I also have admired the “Pippens” from afar.

    Beautiful words…….

  • Patricia Belyea
    Laurie—You’re welcome. It’s important to remember Kitty and think about lovely Sylvia. They are dear to all of us. PB

  • Laurie Badenoch
    Patricia, Thank you so much for your communication. I have enjoyed all your missives and suggested threads, and look forward to your blog book. I love Kitty, too, and appreciate her daughter Sylvia’s work, too. Just know that it makes my day to have an email from you.

  • Patricia Belyea
    Mary Lynn—AND Kitty wrote her first book at the age of 80. Truly an inspirational woman! PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Veronica—You made me smile. I agree. We need to double-check regularly that we are being true to ourselves. PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Rebecca—Kitty’s love of Japanese fabrics was infectious! PB

  • Mary Lynn
    Fascinating that her first quilt was made at age 70 – proves you are never too old to start something new. I’m really looking forward to your new “book” and thank you!

  • Veronica Haberthuer
    Thank you for posting this intro. I will enjoy following your book- chapter by chapter. What is our shtick is something we need to revisit regularly to make sure we are being true to our dreams and stay on our paths.

  • Rebecca Grant
    Really enjoyed this intro to your new book. It reminded me that I had taken a class with Kitty that I had forgotten about! I loved it and it whetted my taste for Japanese fabrics, such a long time ago!

  • Patricia Belyea
    Louise—Creativity has so many facets. It has been my pleasure to take a look at all sides of creativity in relation to making a quilt. PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Carolyn—Kitty combined a natural artistry and a high understanding of geometry in her quilts. Rectangles would morph into triangles, triangles would morph into squares, then squares would morph into parallelograms. So fascinating to see her piecing. And then she would add the intrigue of fabrics from Kasuri Dyeworks in Berkeley—the top resource for Japanese textiles at the time. PB

  • Louise Sakihama
    Thank you for putting voice to the beauty and grace that we all sharing as we realize the strength And power that creativity brings to the world. Looking forward to your thoughts and insights!

  • Elizabeth Eisenhood
    Patricia, your ‘schtick’ has always resonated with me! I remember the first time I saw you selling Yukata in a pop-up like setting at the old quilt store in Bellevue. Who knew you would one day have a blog and I would be looking forward to your Snippets on it. Thank you!