I’m a synesthete.

As one who experiences synesthesia, I see music in color and form. There are many types of synesthesia involving s “cross-over” between 2 of the senses and mine is the most common type. I discovered this in my late teens and felt very “weird” with no one to talk to about it, so after grad school I just buried it.

Last week I listened to a piece I played when I was in college, the Piano Concerto by Aaron Copland

(Video here (but not me playing!)) .

As the music played I  drew what I saw with pencil. Normally I’m totally intimidated by a blank piece of paper. I don’t sketch or draw regularly so this isn’t a common exercise for me. However, once that music began my pencil started flying! I had to let go of any sense of control and just go with the music and what my mind’s eye saw.

Synesthesia drawing in pencil

Then I listened to it again and used colored pencils to capture the colors and shapes.

I did NOT study the first drawing—in fact I didn’t really look at it much. I was more eager to work with the colors. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep up but I felt satisfied with what I got done.

Synesthesia drawing in color
The concerto movement is bright and jazzy and to me, this is conveyed by the images.

After I was finished with the second drawing I began to compare the pictures.

I was amazed at the similarities! The overall composition is the same and many of the elements are very similar. Just for fun I used a photo editing program to overlay the drawings.

Combined synesthesia drawings

Now the similarities really show up. the long arcs, the center shape, the dots, the elongated diamond shapes show up in both, in about the same areas.

I also reversed the colors which makes some parts easier to see. (And the black looks pretty cool!)

Synesthesia drawing reversed colors

I belong to the Professional Art Quilters Alliance. PAQA

They currently have a challenge to produce an 18″ square art quilt on the theme “Exploration.” This exercise was certainly an exploration of my own creative process! So I am working on creating an art quilt of my combined drawings. I love the bright complimentary colors and abstract design is something I have never even attempted before. I am trying to stay true to my drawing and not try to change or improve it—just accept it for the exploration it is. What is interesting to me design-wise is that I can quilt/stitch many of the lines that appeared on my pencil drawing. This is where I am today, still laying down the colored element. Stitching will be next. Piece is due at my Jan. 13 meeting.

Synesthesia quilt beginning

The drawing again for comparison. Synesthesia drawing in color



This is 1 of 4 art quilts as pillows I created for a geologist.

art quilt pillow

He told me he me he makes an annual spiritual pilgrimage to Monument Valley, Utah and asked if I could make pillows using his photos as inspiration.

art quilt pillow

I hand painted the skies with fabric paints. In each photo the sky was a different shade of blue…maybe that was just the camera he used, but I tried to duplicate each color as I saw them. art quilt pillow

It’s funny—I had a large piece of hand-dyed orange-ish fabric that sat in my fabric cupboard for years. I couldn’t remember where I got the piece (or why!) but I finally had the perfect use for it. It gave me a great start for each monolith. art quilt pillow






I also tried very hard to capture important details about each one—-the shadows, highlights and textures.

My customer was very pleased with his pillows!

memory quilt from clothing, pictorial

This is a memory quilt that is a pictorial quilt, made from clothing fabrics. It’s my first true crossover commission!

All the fabrics (except the black background) was from a man’s clothes. The quilt tells the story of who this man was and was commissioned for his 7 year old son. He was a cowboy, wildlife biologist, lived in the Sierra Nevada mountains, camped and fished, and searched for arrowheads,  I was given examples of art for style inspiration and I did my best to give this quilt a sort of primitive/whimsical style.



memory blanket bear, horse, mountain lion

memory quilt mountains, horse, bobcat, trees, stars



There are lakes on each end of this double-sized bed quilt, rivers meander down the sides in front of rows of mountains.

Cowboy Memory Quilt detail 1

memory  blanket lake with fish, mountain lion


Bandanna centers looked kind of “celestial” and inspired the sky area in the center. Other symbols include horse shoes, feathers, arrowheads, and stars.

center of memory quilt, western, cowboy, horseshoes and starts

memory quilt from clothing, pictorial


I used bits of all the clothing that was sent—-about 6 shirts, 2 pairs of jeans and 2 bandannas, and I couldn’t have chosen much better fabrics myself for this type of quilt.

The lakes are from a blue chamois cloth shirt and all the trees were made from 2 green plaid shirts.


memory quilt bear, mountain lion, trees                                     Cowboy Memory Quilt detail 4


Quilting always adds a lot of interest as well as texture to quilts. The quilting I did helps tell the story.

bear quilted spiral



Spiral antlers add a touch of whimsy to this buck.

memory blanket deer, spiral antlers

Memory quilts from clothing can come in all shapes, sizes and styles. Contact me to discuss how we can create your one-of-a-kind masterpiece!  Amy@AmyCavanessDesigns.com








art quilt birch trees

I’ve just returned from a retreat with the Professional Art Quilters Alliance (PAQA) (an Illinois-based group I recently joined.)

I got to know many incredible quilt artists, enjoyed the beautiful, sunny view of Lake Michigan and learned a lot from our instructor, Denise Havlan, a nationally-recognized, award-winning artist.

art quilt birch treesI took my machine and a memory quilt project to work on in my spare time (2 half-days) but 1 full day was spent creating this beautiful art quilt with Denise’s helpful instruction. This piece started with a colorful background fabric (orange, yellow, green.) Denise instructed us in using a variety of paints and other colorants to create the dark area in the background for depth, then creating the birch trees from white fabric. We finished by adding shadows, highlights, wildflowers and other accents. We added batting, backing and did some quilting.  I have to tell you—-I LOVE my little quilt! It will had some bright color to my home for spring. And I would love to make another “Birch Trees” quilt—-it was such fun!

I have an art quilt on display at the Chicago International Quilt Festival! This is one of the biggest shows in the country/world and I’m thrilled.

My art quilt is part of a collection of art quilts created by members of The Professional Art Quilters Alliance (PAQA).

These quilts are our submissions to a challenge to create an 18″ square quilt based on the theme “The Midwest”.   Here is my entry, “Harvest of Times Past.”

art quilt at International Quilt Festival
Harvest of Times Past, Amy Cavaness, 01/2015


I saw about half of the quilts that will be displayed at our January meeting. The interpretation of the theme, The Midwest, was as varied as the landscape and culture here. Some quilts were whimsical, others more abstract. I consider my style to be Impressionistic.


What the Midwest means to me:

Our landscape is littered with lovely old homes and barns that have been abandoned. These old buildings seem to represent the evolution of this part of the country. This rich, black soil is what drew the farmers to settle this frontier throughout the 19th and early 20th century. As the farmers came to till the soil, the towns and industries to support them developed around them—evolving into the Midwest we know today. As farming methods evolved, farmers could handle more and more acreage, and the resulting economic changes squeezed out small farmers.  Those old-fashioned farmers moved on, and left their homes and barns to stand as long as they might.

To me, this is “The Midwest” in a nutshell, and the farmhouse I depicted (just a mile from my home) is quite typical. This one isn’t terribly old and still seems quite structurally sound, but the exterior is deteriorating from exposure to the elements.

Midwest farmhouse detail


In this first photo you can see how I used fabric and then machine stitching to depict the landscape—the rolling fields and the forest beyond the fields. On the tree I used some light-colored thread stitching to show the low winter sun shining on the trunk and branches.

The second is a close-up of the sky. This is fabric I painted with fabric paints as I find it easier to paint that hunt for just the right fabric sometimes!

art quilt,corn fields,midwest,landscapeart quilt,painted fabric,sky. tree

























One last detail to share: the binding I used has meaning to me. It’s an old-fashioned print, which seems rather out-of-place on a modern quilt, but that was just the point! These old farmstead seem rather out-of-place anymore on these huge tracts of land. There’s a warmth and sentimentality about them, but they’re outdated, relics of the past—–like the little strip of fabric around my picture!


art quilt at International Quilt Festival













Dance costumes and a ballet slipper included in a memory quilt from clothing!

This memory quilt includes super-stretchy dance costumes, tee shirts, baby clothes and a ballet slipper!

Quilt from dance costumes

I’ve developed a new technique to include more tee shirt graphics in less space (including more tee shirts in a given size quilt.) This technique involves stitching and quilting graphics on the quilt and then removing excess, or “blank” materials. The effect is like a collage—and pretty dramatic with this tee shirt!

sequinned dance dress and tee shirt combined

Photos transferred to fabric are always a great feature on a memory quilt.Memory blanket with dance attire



t-shirt, dance and swim suitin a memory quiltI especially love this section of the memory quilt. I stitched the graphic from the “epic” tee shirt over a section of a sequinned dance costume, then cut away the background material to reveal the sequinned zebra stripes behind the rays. It’s a small detail in the overall design, but I think it’s really fun. And yes, that’s a bikini bottom!




Sequinned dance costume, back side of blue jeans including the pocket, and bits of

jeans, t-shirt, dance costumebrightly colored homecoming dresses.





Here’s a photo showing a fantastic combination of materials—demonstrating what I am able to successfully stitch together in a memory quilt. Besides tee shirts, this section of the quilt has a baby jacket, sparkly dance costumes, the leg from jeans, and a ballet slipper. Ballet slippers are made by covering a very hard, tough base in beautiful satin. The hard slipper, though full of memories, wouldn’t be very comfy to snuggle with, but I wanted to find a way to include it. My solution was to carefully cut the satin covering off of the slipper and hand-stitch it on to the quilt. I also stitched the satin ribbon laces in a woven pattern to imitate how they would be laced on the ballerina’s leg.




I love this little section—I transferred a darling black and white baby photo to fabric, cut out the figure and stitched it to the corner of a baby blanket, then it was all integrated in the design of the memory quilt.

Photo transferred to fabric sewn to baby blanket


The top of this dress was so pretty I just had to find a way to incorporate it in my design.


memory quilt from teen's clothing







Modern memory quilt from shirts

 Modern Memory Quilt from Shirts

Contemporary-style improvisational piecing

A recently completed modern memory quilt from shirts is this full-size bed quilt. This quilt was put together with fabric from a collection of women’s blouses and a couple of pairs of khaki slacks. The colors are lovely and rather summery—-yellow, orange, several shades of blue, mint green and white with a few touches of red. Sewing this quilt as we transition from summer to fall, the colors seemed to mirror what I was seeing out my window—the beautiful blue October skies and the yellows, oranges and reds starting to appear in the green trees.


Modern memory quilt from shirts




Backing and quilting

The blue backing was a purchased cotton. There’s a LOT going on on the front of the quilt, so the solid back and binding is a nice restful choice here.  I quilted the layers with my box-within-a-box quilting pattern. I like this pattern with these modern quilts—the pattern itself is contemporary looking and the angularity compliments the geometric shapes on the top of the quilt. Like the piecing on the front, this stitching is done without a pattern—-it’s free-motion stitching.

memory quilt from clothing back


Detail photos

Here are a couple of close-ups of the quilt.The way I put the sections together kind of disappears in the rhythms and patterns of color and shape.

Improvisational piecing detail

Contemporary pieced memory quilt




















Published in Quilting Arts Magazine

I’m absolutely thrilled to have my art quilts and an article in the latest Quilting Arts  magazine!!!! I’ve subscribed to this magazine for many, many years and truly never dreamed I’d see my own work (and face!) in the publication. But there it is—the Oct/Nov 2014 issue, “In the Spotlight” article.

Quilting Arts Magazine
Latest issue of Quilting Arts magaine

The article features photos of 2 of my quilts (admittedly my favorites), “Peeking” and “Trail Riding”. The first is an art quilt of a little kitten peeking out from under a barn door. The other is a quilt of my husband and me on our horses at Matthiessen State Park here in north-central Illinois. A third quilt is described in the article and displayed on the website.

So grab a copy here to read my article and all the rest—a really fabulous magazine! Every issue has interesting new techniques, new bios of quilt artists and tons of inspiration!!

If you are interested in commissioning an art quilt walling hanging, please contact me. I am accepting commissions for 2015! [contact-form][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]