Behind the Scenes with Sue and Ashley Nickels

Behind the Scenes with Sue and Ashley Nickels

Sometimes, you have the chance to spend time with an amazing quilter like Sue Nickels.

Sometimes her equally-talented daughter Ashley will tag along.

Sometimes, we’re really, really lucky.

Read on for our behind the scenes with Sue and Ashley Nickels, two of the sweetest, most impressive quilters we’ve had the chance to film with.

Where do you live?

Sue: Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Ashley: San Francisco, California.

Do you have any adorable pets/kids/life partners we need to know about?

Sue: Well, I have Ashley who’s filming with me. I also have Jessi and my son-in-law Ryan and they have Mabel and Stella, my two granddaughters. Oh, and my husband Tim.

Ashley: Not really, but has my mom told you about Rubi, her yellow lab? No? Well, Rubi is like another family member and she’s actually named after me…kind of. “Rubi” means blonde in Spanish and I suggested her name after the time I spent teaching in Spain. I can’t believe she didn’t mention Rubi.

How (and when) did you get into quilting?

Behind the Scenes with Sue and Ashley Nickels

Sue: Officially, I started quilting in 1978, but I’ve been sewing my whole life. I wanted to make a baby quilt for my daughter Jessi and I have been hooked ever since. I started out hand-quilting, got a machine in the 1980s and started teaching in the 1990s.

Ashley: Well, I’ve been sewing since I was little. I think the first thing I made was a princess skirt out of pink tulle. My first quilt-like item was a duvet cover. I taught at an international school in Spain for a while and while I was there I started making and selling handbags.

Of course, I played in mom’s quilting room growing up and when I discovered modern quilting, I love the combination of art and functionality.

What’s the toughest part of quilting?

Sue: Finding the time to actually quilt! I like all kinds of quilting, but lately I’ve been doing more machine quilting and applique. And I adore the challenge of piecing.

Ashley: The sheer quantity of fabric and maneuvering it through a sewing machine…and being an impatient measurer (but I’ve found a few ways to cut corners). I had to learn the hard way since I didn’t always follow mom’s advice.

What advice would you give people who are just picking up quilting?

Sue: It takes time to perfect the skill. Don’t expect it to be perfect immediately. Even if you’re using a machine, quilting takes time. It takes practice and you will get better. Quilting is about enjoying the process and doing it well.

Ashley: Play around with what you like. Don’t feel like you have to follow what a quilt “should look like.” Don’t be afraid of your machine. If you can sew two pieces of fabric together, you can make a quilt.

And start small.

Where do you go for inspiration?

Sue: I’ve always admired antique quilts — I look at a lot of early quilts. I pull color inspiration from nature, but I really like to use unique color combinations. In fact, my quilt designs are very traditional but my color and fabric choices are very contemporary.

Ashley: I literally walk outside.

I find traveling inspirational – like the colors and textiles found in homes. I go to Nicaragua often and every time I go I find something different.

How do you make time to quilt?

Behind the Scenes with Sue and Ashley Nickels

Sue: Ha! I stay very, very busy. Right now I’m trying to keep a better handle on my schedule and not travel quite so much. I’d like to cut down on time away from home so I have a little more time to create. Basically, I’m being more selfish with my teaching and travel commitments.

Ashley: I’m a teacher, so I do a lot of work over the summer. I blogged all last summer. During the school year I do small projects like zipper pouches and wallets. And when daylight savings happens, I take advantage of the light evenings.

Who are some of your favorite artists?

Sue: I admire lots of other quilters’ work. I try not to pull directly from them since I want my work to stay true to my own visions. In general, I love impressionists and especially Mary Cassatt.

Ashley: I love Denyse Schmidt and Heather Ross (who doesn’t). Design Seeds is a great place to go for color inspiration. They release daily color palettes. And lots of painters — I just saw the Georgia O’Keefe exhibit at the DeYoung and it was fantastic.

What are your favorite materials to work with?

Sue: Truly, I just pick fabric I like. I don’t pay attention to its lines. However, I do really love to use cotton thread for its finish. I use a few different weights. I don’t use it exclusively, but I do endorse a variegated tone-on-tone thread called King Tut. I love solids for backgrounds and I tend to mix in small prints for applique.

And my Bernina. I love my Bernina sewing machine.

Ashley: Cotton. And I use a lot of interfacing in my work. I also do a lot of drawing, so I use a lot of paper, pens, and markers.

What is your most favorite thing you’ve ever made?

Sue: I’m probably best known for my Beatles quilt. It combines applique and folk elements. But honestly, my favorite quilt is usually the one I’m working on.

Beatles quilt

Ashley: I made my friend a tiny quilt for her wedding last summer, and I absolutely loved it.

W quilt

Be honest – how much fun is it to film these Creativebug classes…or at least getting to hang out in SF for a little while?

Sue: I really like Creativebug — filming here makes it easy to do something difficult. It’s exciting to be part of a new company!

Ashley: I’ve really enjoyed it! It’s been a lot of fun.

Best and worst/hardest parts of filming a class:

Sue: The best part is that I get to reach a lot of quilters. I get to help even more people love and enjoy quilting. The hardest part? All the prep work. Especially with something as complex as quilting, thinking about every single step takes a lot of effort. And since I like to be over-prepared…it can be a little stressful.

Ashley: I really enjoyed the teamwork and the dedication to making everything the best possible version. It was a really lovely environment.

The worst part is the brain freeze when the camera is on you  – that feeling of being tongue-tied.

Do you like being in front of the camera?

Sue: Once I get going I do. I’m always nervous about lecturing at first, but the more I do it, the more I enjoy it.

Ashley: Yes! It’s very similar to teaching.

Where can we stalk you online?

Sue: Go to That’s where I share all my info on upcoming classes and quilts.

Ashley: Instagram. My blog. Twitter.