Behind the Scenes with Susan Beal

susan beal

We had the distinct pleasure of filming with Susan Beal this week. The only downside of the shoot was the fact that she had to leave. Sigh.

I made Susan spend part of her lunch break answering questions with me and here, roughly, are her answers. This woman is all kinds of fantastic.


Where do you live?

I live in Portland, OR.

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

I have a daughter, Pearl, who’s seven and a son named Everett who’s three years old. My husband’s name is Andrew and we actually met on Everett Street in NW Portland, which is the street we named out son after.

(Susan had to stop to show us a picture of her daughter at Kindergarten hanging out with two of her best friends. Cutest pink dress ever.)

How (and when) did you get into quilting?

I’ve been sewing for a long time — I always made skirts and handbags — and I made my first quilt block eight years ago at a craft night I hosted at my apartment.

susan beal

What’s the toughest part of quilting?

Okay, this is what’s hardest for me when it comes to quilting. I sew in the basement, so whenever I have to lay out a full size quilt, I have to go upstairs to do it. Small projects: no problem. Big projects mean I’m up and down the stairs all day.

What advice would you give beginning quilters?

Start with something simple — like a log cabin quilt. Sew straight lines.

Don’t be intimidated.

Have fun with it.

And definitely see if there’s a Modern Quilt Guild in your area. I’m in Portland’s and it’s an amazing, supportive community of quilters.

Where do you go for inspiration?

This is pretty simple, but I organize all my fabric by color; I fold then on comic book cards. That alone has been pretty huge. I absolutely love comparing colors and prints. I also love going to fabric stores and carrying bolts of fabric around so I can see how different colors and prints work together.

Quilting history has also had a pretty big influence on my work — the abstract designs from Amish quilts and the quilts from Gee’s Bend. If you don’t know about the quilts from Gee’s Bend, you have to check them out. They were featured in an exhibition at the Whitney in 1988, and they are breathtaking.

Another woman who’s had a big influence on my quilts is Denyse Schmidt. I’ve taken three classes of hers, I love her fabrics, and she gave a great talk at Quilt Con last year.

How do you make time to craft?

I’m a mom of two with a husband who works full time, so I use my childcare hours wisely. When my kids are at school, that’s when I’m working. I pace myself. I also make sure to balance deadline-based projects with fun, smaller projects for family and friends. I always have a couple of projects going at once, which keeps them fresh and fun to work on.

Who are some of your favorite artists?

I’m a huge fan of Mark Rothko and Joseph Albers. I also love the printing tutorials I’ve taken from Lotta Jansdotter and Christine Schmidt. There’s also a pretty inspiring book of photos of the quilts of Gee’s Bend.

What are your favorite materials or tools to work with?

One of the best tools I have in my sewing room is my sidewinder – it lets me wind tons of extra bobbins without having to use my sewing machine.

susan beal

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

It’s simple, but my Log Cabin Modern Crosses quilt. It’s tied. There’s one button in the middle of each cross. It’s straightforward. I love it.

It’s also the quilt that’s hanging behind me on my set.

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?

I love San Francisco, it’s so much fun here. In fact, this amazing weather* has me second-guessing living in Portland. I just told my husband that if we don’t move out here, we at least have to visit more often.

*A major storm system moved into the Bay Area that day. It poured.

Best and worst/hardest parts of filming a class:

Best: Finishing a perfect seam. And knowing that I’ll now have a class available all the time, forever. It’s so much easier to have a class ready online than it is to make room for an in-person class in my own schedule.

Worst: The constant stress of having a $4,000 camera hovering over my right shoulder. And having to use a sewing machine at a weird angle so that the shot comes out right. And worrying about how I move my hands so that they don’t cover up something important. Okay, the dynamics of getting a clear shot in general.

Do you like being in front of the camera?

You know, I used to be a really shy kid. But a little while ago, I was president of the Portland Modern Quilt Guild, so I’m much more comfortable being in the spotlight now.

Oh, and my absolute favorite moment of filming so far was when I got to talk about the baby quilt design and log cabin quilting. The log cabin design is so amazing because once you have all your pieces cut out, you can make so many different shapes and patterns on your quilt. Barn raisings, crosses, lightning strikes. It’s also incredible how a simple fabric swap or color change can affect the whole look and feel of the quilt.

Okay, last question. Where can we stalk you online?

*laughs* My blog is West Coast Crafty Blog and I’m also on Twitter as @westcoastcrafty.