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Susan Tesch— Quilts as art from the heart

A relative newcomer to the art of quilting, Susan Tesch uses her experience as an abstract painter to craft stunning images on quilts and other items, such as placemats. Susan plans to open a quilting business when she retires.
February 27, 2018
  • Susan Tesch
  • Susan Tesch
  • Susan Tesch
"I worked on my living room floor, using a really basic sewing machine to put my first quilt together. Despite the challenges, I fell in love with process. I could not wait to make my next quilt."

Quilts as art from the heart

In late 2011, Susan Tesch of the Associate Directorate for Nuclear & High Hazards Operations (ADNHHO) received as a Christmas gift a quilting kit from her mother-in-law and father-in-law. Although she did not know it at the time, this kit would set Susan off on a new artistic journey, one guided by her heart.

“When I unwrapped this present, I thought, ‘Wow, what a beautiful and nice gift,’” Susan remembers. “It was one of the best gifts I have ever received, but I had no idea what to do with it.”

After some coaching from her mother-in-law on the basics of quilting, Susan started working on her first quilt. Although the process appealed to her precise and accurate nature, Susan lacked many of the modern conveniences today’s quilters rely on, so the process also proved physically and mentally demanding.


Quilting Basics

Although the exact origins of quilting remain unknown, various sewing techniques associated with it, such as piecing and appliqué, have been around in various parts of the world for several millennia. Quilts are often associated with bedding and decoration, but they have also been used as armor (for example, a padded jacket known as gambeson), tablecloths, and wall hangings. Bedding remains the primary application for quilts today, but they also document commemorative or historical events, serve as pieces of art and are often given as gifts.

“A quilt is made up of three layers of fiber,” explains Susan. “The top layer is your art piece, the design. The middle layer is made up of batting or wadding, and it serves as insulation. The bottom layer is a woven back. Together, these layers make up what I call a ‘quilt sandwich.’”

Some quilts are made wholecloth—from a single piece of fabric with often-intricate stitching patterns. However, the majority of quilts are pieced together from various fabric selections known as blocks. The quilter selects the pattern and colors that make up the block to create each quilt’s distinct design. The number of blocks is left to the quilter—even one block could be made of many smaller pieces.

Susan's quilt, titled "54 Chevy," was inspired by her husband's truck.

Quilting from the Hear

Currently in her seventh year as a quilter, Susan finds that she makes most of her quilts as gifts. She draws her inspiration mostly from family and friends, but her designs are driven by her experience as an abstract painter.

One of Susan’s early designs was inspired by her husband’s 1954 Chevy truck. “He wanted me to create that quilt,” says Susan. “I was apprehensive at first, but I decided that it was worth a try. We took his truck to the Los Alamos Ski Hill and I took several pictures of it. I then started working on the patterns, capturing components of the truck like its tires, hubcaps and grill. Rather than go the traditional route with this quilt, I created my own type of templates to achieve the final result.” 

Wilbert Weijer
Susan created this quilt as a graduation present for her nephew Kory.

Susan recently designed a quilt for her nephew Kory, who will graduate from high school this year. “He wanted a modern quilt,” says Susan. “Rather than go a more realistic approach, I decided to explore the abstract. This track took me a little out of my comfort box. Although Kory wanted colors like blacks and grays, I told them that as the artist I needed to put a little bit of color into the quilt, and he was okay with that. He also likes lines, so some of the patches were designed with lines in mind.”


Business after Retirement

As Susan prepares to end her career at Los Alamos, she wants to master the automation behind crafting quilts so that she can turn her vocation into a small business. While working toward such mastery, she plans to continue creating quilts and unique items as gifts and to enter contests such as the annual Hoffman Challenge. In 2013, Susan’s entry, “54 Chevy,” was selected to tour the United States. Three years later, Susan received an honorable mention in this competition for her placemat creations titled “Dresden Monarch.” Established in 1988, the Hoffman Challenge is an annual quilting competition open to first-time quilters and veterans alike. Categories include modern quilts, pieced quilts, appliquéd quilts, mixed techniques and clothing and accessories.

Wilbert Weijer
Susan's placemats, titled "Dresden Monarch," won honorable mention in the 2016 Hoffman Challenge.

“I recently purchased a long-arm quilting machine,” says Susan. “This is a sophisticated machine with computerized controls. There are more than 200 built-in designs that can be resized to fit each individual project. Once I’ve mastered the automation component, I will be able to complete quilts more efficiently. This will make my quilts more affordable to customers.”

Susan Tesch works as a program manager for the Associate Directorate for Nuclear & High Hazards Operations (ADNHHO).


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the Employee Spotlight articles are solely those of the featured employees and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

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