If you’ve made it here, you’re either already a friend of A Different Box of Crayons, or a committed and persistent web-surfer who has arrived here quite randomly.  In either case, welcome!  We’re glad you’re here and hope you’ll come back often to check up on what’s happening in our world, a world of unlimited possibilities in color and texture, fabric and technique.

This blog is intended to be a haven for the exchange of ideas and good conversation concerning the thing we all hold most dear: quilting and creating.  That’s not to say we might not stray off from time to time, into other things of interest (no politics, please!), but whatever.  We’ll approach blogging as we do quilting—open to everything that makes life richer through creativity.

Walk with us as we traverse this previously untrodden ground–opening a brand new shop and expanding our business reach–all the while pushing the design boundaries just a little further each time out.  As we like to think, after a time you may just find that you, too, had the power all along.

So hold on tight, off we go . . .

Thank You!

Thank you for being patient. Thank you for keeping the faith. Thank you for believing in us and being here, now, to join in the celebration!

There is so much to say now that the end of our long journey (and calendar year 2017!) is nigh, but nothing so important as a resounding “Thank You!” to all of you, our loyal friends and followers.

Thank you for being patient.  Thank you for keeping the faith.  Thank you for believing in us and being here, now, to join in the celebration that should–and will–continue for as long as we all share this love of craft we have found in quilt design.

Going forward we’ll be much more tuned in to keeping you abreast of all we do, through this blog and via our almost-ready website.  We want you to think of A Different Box of Crayons as your conceptual touchstone, and the Red House as your physical center for design innovation, as we take Eclectics to the limits, and then some.

ADBOC at Night

There is a great deal to do in the waning weeks of this year, with the holiday season already in full gallop, but be assured even more awaits as we greet all that is new in 2018.  Here’s looking forward to creating, together, now that we have a tangible home for all this wonder.  What a home it is, too!  If you haven’t already, please make it a point to come in and join us, whenever you can.  There will always be something new brewing.


[Here’s a fun link to an article recently published as we opened our doors]:


Be sure to follow (and like) us on Facebook, as well.




Where does the time go?

It has been a month since I last posted to this blog! Oh my…where DOES the time go!! There is so much going on in our crayon world, to quote a dear friend, it is a never ending twirl! It is no wonder that the days fly by and there still appears to be so much to do that I don’t know which end is up. I AM overwhelmed, but it is time to pause, even if it’s just long enough to write this.

The Red House is progressing, as I hope most of you have seen on the Facebook videos. It is truly amazing to watch it grow and now the progress seems to once again be daily; decisions, decisions, sometimes on an hourly basis. I know in our day to day lives it is necessary to take on many details but this avalanche for us seems to be never-ending right now. I guess rebuilding a house is not a great deal different than building anything else, the beauty remains in the details. Sadly, often, so does the cost. I am reminded of the movie the Money Pit with Tom Hanks and Shelley Long…. but enough said, I digress. We are moving forward quickly and hope to be able to announce our Grand Re-Opening early this summer. I personally will be there dancing and I hope you all will be too.

The other big deadlines/events that are quickly approaching in May are:  the submission of the complete draft for our book with C&T, Eclectics, and my return to Orvieto, Italy to co-teach a quilting inspiration class for Adventures in Italy with my dear and talented friend Renee Nanneman. It’s no wonder sleep comes hard these days. All this and I’m still trying to finalize new projects for 2017, prepare for the Kansas City Regional Quilt Show in Kansas City AND get Eastlake, our new BOM, constructed before we begin in June. Maybe I shouldn’t have written this all down. I’m overwhelmed enough. My mom always said I work best under pressure, but this is extreme.

This is all a really long way of saying “stop”.  Our world–not just mine, but our world–is a little crazy right now for so many reasons. I think we all need to stop from time to time, and Spring seems like the most obvious time to do just that. Slow down, as best we can, and take stock of where we are and what we have. Give ourselves a pat on the back for what we have accomplished and not just chastise ourselves for what is left undone.

Maybe it’s a little corny, but the trees are in bloom, new growth is all around us, brown things are turning green and the smell of flowers is in the air. Isn’t it obvious that if the earth can rebuild itself every year we can too?  So hold the hand of someone dear, sip a glass of wine (or your beverage of choice) and just sit down and be still……. for just a little while. Relish the small things and let the troubles and deadlines go for just a bit. It’s what I need to do so that I can get up, make the decisions and actually, again, see the wonder I have yet to behold and in turn, create. Take a breath and then go out and make something; a quilt top, a garden, a recipe, a play date with a child, a smile on someone else’s face. Something that will ground you and give you pause to recognize that today is a good day, no matter the decision that needs to be made later or the deadline that looms.

Happy Spring, my friends!

Inspiration: Where does it come from?

“It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but that you are a conductor of light.  Some people, without possessing genius, have a remarkable power of stimulating it.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Inspiration.  Where does it come from?

That’s a question I was asked last month when I visited the Sinnissippi Quilt Guild in Rockford, Illinois, and it’s one that I am asked often.  The answer isn’t as simple as it is concise; that answer is “everywhere”.

As I’ve talked about somewhere else on this site (and so many other times, in person) for me, design isn’t so much an occupation, or even a profession, as it is a way of life, and when I say that I mean it on a very fundamental, visceral level.  It’s a way of seeing.  And feeling, of course, but it all starts with the seeing part.  That, itself, is more than just perceiving something.  It’s a process that only just begins with that–the observation of something, I mean.  That visual experience is the trigger, and if the image is powerful, even in some small, subjective way, and the stars are aligned at that moment (okay, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic here, but there is a certain unpredictable magic to it), what we often call “inspiration” follows.

When I designed Cathedral Doves, our very first Block of the Month, that wasn’t the first time I was seeing those golds and greys, because in my internalized process that palette just emerged, as if on its own, as I played with the fabric.  As I recalled the experience of wonder in beholding the floors and mosaic wall patterns in the Umbrian church that “inspired” that composition, Cathedral Doves was born.

It was much the same as Wesley Street came together.  It was really a result of an effortless, almost unconscious visual synthesis of the rich detail already around me in the Wheaton studio:  the stained glass, the carved newel post motif, the Victorian detail–all subtle, but all compelling.  And so it’s been with Eastlake, a labor of love and inspiration evolving, even as this is written, from the almost palpable spirit and, yes–aura, that’s been so evident as we first deconstruct, and then re-construct that nineteenth century farmhouse on Pennsylvania Avenue.

I think designers can sometimes be thought of as mediums, channeling a kind of energy wrought from a visual experience and holding it, for a moment, just long enough to imbue that energy with form, line and texture, then sending it on its way–newly clad in color and context–to complete the composition to which this “inspiration” has given birth.  We are all, at times, simply prisms; accepting the raw light of an evocative visual experience, then splitting that light into wavelengths of intense hue to be woven into something new that, hopefully, will inspire others in turn.  In a nutshell, I feel that it’s my challenge as a designer and teacher, not just to produce a different product but to help others see, embrace and interpret the wonder that surrounds us all.

So, where do I find inspiration?  In a world so rich in visual treasure, maybe the better question is, where do I not?

It’s Alive!

Back in my commercial design days, we would work on a given project for months, immersing ourselves in the details of the architecture and the furnishings, ultimately having to loose our grip on conceptual matters, issue the drawings, and hope that the contractors in the field would execute our design intent faithfully and accurately.  In what was (and still is) a very fast-paced design environment, we would no sooner put the construction documents out “on the street” (for bid) then have to turn our attentions and efforts to the next project in line.

Of course, even though we, as design staff, necessarily went on to the next charrette* the office had continuing installation and construction responsibilities, so we did get to follow our creations to completion, if only through the accounts of our colleagues in the field.

One phrase that sticks in my mind, uttered years ago by one of our production staff after a visit to the job site, was “It’s alive!” (with apologies to the late Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein) in describing what it looked and felt like to see–finally–tradespeople actually building what we had painstakingly conceptualized, drawn and detailed so many months prior.

Well, after having inked the closing documents for the Red House in February of last year, having gone through every conceivable (and some, frankly, inconceivable) hearings and review processes, after refining the design and interviewing/hiring a contractor, THEN getting our building permit this past Wednesday, well . . . it’s ALIVE!



The word charrette is French for “cart” or “chariot.” Its use in the sense of design and planning arose in the 19th century at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where it was not unusual at the end of a term for teams of student architects to work right up until a deadline, when a charrette would be wheeled among them to collect up their scale models and other work for review. Their continued working furiously to apply the finishing touches came to be referred to as working en charrette, “in the cart.” Émile Zola depicted such a scene of feverish activity, a nuit de charrette or “charrette night,” in L’Œuvre (serialized 1885, published 1886), his fictionalized account of his friendship with Paul Cézanne. The term evolved into the current design-related usage in conjunction with working right up until a deadline.

In fields of design such as architecture, landscape architecture, industrial design, interior design, interaction design, or graphic design, the term charrette may refer to an intense period of work by one person or a group of people prior to a deadline. The period of a charrette typically involves both focused and sustained effort. The word “charrette” may also be used as a verb, as in, for example, “I am charretting” or “I am on charrette [or: en charrette],” simply meaning I am working long nights, intensively toward a deadline.


20170228_171100 image1 20170304_094228 20170304_094310 20170304_094237 20170304_094253 20170304_095338 20170304_095416

The Dutchman’s Puzzle

In February of last year when we purchased the Glen Ellyn property we were determined, from the outset, to honor the heritage of this site while adapting the buildings and land to productive use as our quilt shop and design studio.  Since the abiding culture of quilting has always drawn from centuries past in forming contemporary expression, we hope the reincarnation of the Red House under our stewardship will do the same.  As part of this homage to the past, and with an obvious nod to the internal function of the building, we decided early on to incorporate into our re-imagining that piece of building art commonly known as a “barn quilt”.

As anyone who has driven through rural areas in the northeast, midwest and points in between knows, a barn quilt is a painted depiction of motif evocative of an individual quilt block–the basic unit of construction of most traditional quilts.  As we all know, there are numerous absolutely classic block patterns, among which are the well-known double star, pinwheel, log cabin, and famously, in our case, the dutchman’s puzzle.


The notion of barn quilts, most agree, began in 2001 when a woman named Donna Sue Groves realized a years-old desire to honor her mother with installation of the first “barn quilt”.  The thought was that this would be a way of celebrating quilting while at the same time establishing a tradition that would eventually take hold and give rise to “barn quilt trails” throughout certain regions of the United States, where agrarian history is particularly ingrained.  She recounts the evolution of this “barn quilt” phenomenon, in part this way:

I finally had my own barn.  Ours was a tobacco barn.  One day while we were admiring it, I mentioned to my mother that I thought the barn was plain and needed something to brighten it up.  I said it needed color; I halfheartedly said a big quilt square would look nice and promised her that I’d paint one for her someday.  That “1989 “someday” promise took fourteen years to come to fruition.

*     *     *

On my numerous [Ohio Arts Council] road trips, I naturally watched for barns just as I did as a child.  It was during those road trips that an idea started to formulate that led to my “aha” moment.  Most rural communities did not have large, blank store walls or a floodwall for murals, but they did have barns.  To me the barn walls looked like empty palettes waiting to be decorated.  Why not make use of those barn walls specifically for a community project decorating them with quilt squares?

*     *     *

As the years passed my friends asked if I still planned to paint my mother’s quilt square . . . I suggested that if we were going to paint one quilt square, why not paint several and invite tourists to travel a trail using quilt squares?

*     *     *

For the past fifteen years I’ve found purpose and delight working with communities as they planned, developed and implemented quilt trails across the United States . . . Daily, I am reminded that I am part of a greater community that is bound together by a magical quilting thread . . . I’ve learned that we are a kinder, gentler nation, person-by-person and neighbor-by-neighbor, than the evening news would have us believe.  I’ve heard childhood stories of growing up in rural America—how a quilt or barn played a role in so many lives.  I’ve been told how working with others to create a [barn quilt] trail transformed these lives and gave them new purpose—even giving some a will to live.  I lived for those stories; stories were and continue to be my lifeline to the outside world!

Parron, Suzi. Following the Barn Quilt Trail. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2016 (from the foreword by Donna Sue Groves).

Since that time the custom of hand-painting such barn quilts—especially in the context of “barn quilt trails”, or specific routes in which numerous quilts can be experienced in sequence–has taken hold to the extent that there are now examples of this art in each of the 48 contiguous states and Canada.

See also, Parron, Suzi. Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail. americanquilttrail.blogspot.com (retrieved August 21, 2016).

    *         *        *

The difference between a real quilt block and a barn quilt, of course, is one of scale, material and application.  The barn quilt isn’t intended to be a literal block, but evocative of one.  It’s an important distinction, but one that failed to impact the hearts and minds of the Village reviewers or affect their collective penchant for very literal code interpretation when we sought initial design approval.  Then, as now, our humble example of this folk art form was intractably deemed a commercial “sign”, making it necessary for us to apply (and argue) for a code variance before we could incorporate this iconic element into the building.  Sigh.  So it goes.

The good news, of course, is that we did get the variance, and our block will be gracing the west elevation of the house, for many years to come.


So, we hope that as you drive west on Pennsylvania Avenue in Glen Ellyn to visit, the first thing you’ll see is our Dutchman’s Puzzle, and maybe smile as you appreciate the history both it, and the façade it adorns, embody.


Things Happen for a Reason . . .

Things Happen for a Reason……..

When I first visited the quaint Umbrian town of Orvieto back in 1979, the idea that I might return one day never entered my thoughts.  In those days I was working for Perkins & Will, a large architectural firm of international reach.  I was a young commercial interior designer, and was on the return trip from a project our team was doing in Kuwait. I was traveling with the architects in charge of the facade design of the building, and they needed to stop at the quarry just outside of Orvieto to inspect stone to be used on the job.  Out of interest, I tagged along and was immediately enthralled by the area–the countryside, the architecture, the serenity, the light, the color–the core beauty of it all.  As I write this, I’m anticipating my return there for what will be the third time in the last seven years, and my love of Orvieto has not changed.  It has only grown richer.

Yes, I will be returning to Italy at the end of this coming May to co-teach, with my dear friend Renee Nanneman, for an amazing couple, Kristi and Bill Steiner. Kristi and Bill own Adventures in Italy, a company that collaborates with artists and craftspeople to facilitate learning opportunities for the teachers and students alike.  Orvieto is amazing, but it’s the combined spirit of these two extraordinary people that makes this a “one of a kind” adventure in the truest sense of that phrase. For fourteen years, they have afforded those fortunate enough to participate in their special brand of creative travel singular insights into real Italian life, while providing access to the locals that might never have occurred without their knowledge and the genuine joy in what they do.  This is a treasure that most traditional tourists will never experience.

When they first honored us by asking Renee and I to teach in May 2015, I was overwhelmed by the serendipitous nature of it. Now Renee and I are returning to teach yet again this May, and by this opportunity we will be charged with stretching imaginations to new limits, and helping our students to simply see and be inspired by all that surrounds them. See the texture. See the color. See the design. See and interpret into our textile media the serenity that is everywhere in this beautiful setting.

Regrettably, Bill and Kristi announced, earlier this year, that this would be the last year for Adventures in Italy.  I am saddened that I will no longer see these two rare spirits as such a natural part of this Italian landscape, but this circumstance will make the coming trip that much more special–all the stops will be out for Renee and me. The reason I share this now, is that as of yesterday (Tuesday, February 14) we learned that what has been a full class up to now (and at times over-filled!) is now down one student and we have a surprise opening!!!  So . . . I am now able to extend one last invitation to some lucky traveler (or two) to join us on this adventure of a life time.

I am truly blessed, and a huge believer that “things happen for a reason”, so I can’t help but reflect upon my own good fortune to have had this opportunity myself. An adventure that started in my youth when I was a naive interior designer, now comes full circle as I return as the “quilt heretic”. You just never know when opportunities and adventure will present themselves. We need to be open to them.

Not everyone is a natural fit for something like this, but many certainly are. There is so much more to share about the wonders of Italy on a trip like this, that I encourage anyone who might be even vaguely interested to check out the Steiners’ website at http://adventuresinitaly.net — QUICKLY — as I’m guessing that this last available slot won’t be open for long.  However, if you find yourself reading this . . . that, too might be for a reason!

The journey begins . . .

Well, here we are, immersed in total chaos for the past, oh, six months or so, ever since we found out our lease in Wheaton would be terminated and we’d be forced to scramble for storage and work space until our “new” shop and studio can be built.

By way of background, we had been planning for some time to move into our own premises and stop paying rent, so we acquired what we lovingly (at least most of the time) call the “Red House” back in February of 2016, with an eye toward renovating at our leisure and moving in by fall/winter of that year.  Of course, nothing went as planned, from the time in October when we had to vacate Wesley Street and store our inventory in various locations throughout DuPage County, to now when, after months and months of design, negotiations and municipal hearings we can truly begin construction.

At this point we’re hoping to be complete in time for a seriously awesome gala grand opening on or about the Fourth of July.  We hope you’ll keep tabs on our progress both here and on our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/A-Different-Box-of-Crayons-280099352019612/), as well as visit our new website, also under construction as we speak.

In the meantime, block out that July 4th week to join us.  We’ll be more than ready to party.