If You Can’t Get Outside, Take a Page from Jean Wells


It’s a rainy day here and I wouldn’t be outside even without the stay-at-home order.  So it’s a good day for a “visit” with Jean Wells.

Honoree Jean Wells Keenan has a birthday coming up on Saturday (May 23rd). Wish her a happy day on her Facebook page. You may know her as the founder of the Sisters Quilt Show in Oregon—more about that later—or as the author of nearly 30 quilt books.  If you don’t know her and want a quick bio, read here: https://quiltershalloffame.net/jean-wells/.

Early in my quilting journey, I discovered two of her early books. I was fascinated by her use of color and her interpretation of nature. She could turn a simple quilt into mixed berry delight or a field of flowers. These three books, with photos by her daughter, Valori, transported me out of my quilting room and into a beautiful outside world.

Since you’re probably stuck inside, you may enjoy a little of the flavor of those books on Jean’s blog: https://stitchinpostinsisters.typepad.com/stitchin_post_in_sisters/jean-wells/  Or, here are two garden quilts made for one of the books.

Here’s one of my first quilts, made after the Salad quilt in Through the Garden Gate.  I was just starting with the idea of color, and was proud of myself for “planting” eggplant, corn and carrots in my straight furrows. Clearly, I didn’t capture Jean’s sensibilities, but at least I moved away from my usual early two- and three-color palette.

I called it “Mary, Mary, How Does Your Garden Grow?”, and gave it to my sister-in-law who is a Master Gardener.

But, enough about me. 

Many of the quilts in her books are made by others, but Jean is also a prolific quilter herself.  Here’s one where she got the color right and introduced the interesting technique of portrait applique, as explained on the Quilt Index:

“Applique Techniques-The quiltmaker used her originated technique called the “Portrait Method” where a smaller version of the larger quilt is constructed and backed (using a pillowcase edge finish) and then applied to the surface of the large quilt at specific locations. In this quilt, the “portraits” are applied with an invisible applique stitch through the backing fabric only, onto the large quilt, all around the portrait perimeter. This effect causes the quilt design to look as if it is floating above the surface of the quilt. This gives depth and dimension through light, shadow, and texture. “ Wells Keenan, Jean. Hidden Stone. c.2010. From Oregon Quilt Project, Oregon Quilt Project. Published in The Quilt Index, http://www.quiltindex.org/fulldisplay.php?kid=6A-FD-146. Accessed: 05/17/2020

I can’t imagine making the large version of this, let alone several minis to add on.  But obviously, I’m not Jean Wells, nor was meant to be. Take the time to see more of Jean’s work at https://jeanwellsquilts.com/gallery.html

As you could see from her gallery, Jean currently seems to gravitate to “art” quilts, and here are several of her more recent books.

But she also wrote books for more traditional quilters, especially in her “Patchwork Quilts Made Easy “ series.  Here’s a quilt she designed for her book “Buttonhole Stitch-Applique”.

Wells Keenan, Jean. Pine Meadow. c.1995. From Oregon Quilt Project, Oregon Quilt Project. Published in The Quilt Index, http://www.quiltindex.org/fulldisplay.php?kid=6A-FD-152. Accessed: 05/17/2020

The mountains in that quilt give me a segue to the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show founded by Wells in 1975.  A few years ago it was reported that the show had grown to an average annual attendance of 12,500 with an estimated economic impact in the Sisters area of $1.7 million per year.  For 45 years the event has blanketed the entire town with up to 1,400 quilts.  It’s on my bucket list and you can see why from these photos:

Like so many things, the actual show is cancelled this year, but will be held as a virtual event.

45th Annual Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show–Reimagined for Saturday July 11, 2020 
Press release at https://www.soqs.org/covid19

Over the years, Jean has taught hundreds, maybe thousands (not even including that first class of 9th grade boys). One of her techniques is taking a traditional block and getting her students to spark it up.  Another is to use pure color (that’s where I went wrong) You can get a glimpse into Jean’s teaching technique by reading about one of her classes here http://karenquilt.blogspot.com/2012/06/jean-wells-keenan-comes-to-lopez.html.   and here http://karenquilt.blogspot.com/2012/06/jean-wells-keenen-visits-lopez-ii.html.  I want to sign up.

The Quilters Hall of Fame Collection has this article that starts with the New York Beauty block.

I’d be happy to be able to achieve either of those settings, but look what others have been inspired by Jean to create.

“I was inspired by Cynthia Mumford’s quilt “Cats in the Garden”. She made her quilt in 2007. In her Q.S.O.S. interview in 2011 she said she was inspired by Jean Wells’ quilt, “Paradise in the Garden” which was featured in the book “Garden Inspired Quilts” by Jean Wells and Valori Wells in 2002. I would love to know who inspired Jean Wells to make her quilt. “ Hoffman, JoAnn. Inspire. June 1, 2014. From Quilt Alliance, Inspired By. Published in The Quilt Index, http://www.quiltindex.org/fulldisplay.php?kid=1-6-30C. Accessed: 05/17/2020

I think I know who inspired Jean Wells: it’s always Mother Nature.

Your Quilting friend,



  1. ANother very well done blog addition! Thank you for including all the links. She is amazing!!

  2. Thanks, Chris. And, yes, she and all the Honorees are amazing. Keep reading. Anna

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