Tree of Life

Bobbie Edds of Paducah, Kentucky contacted me in January 2019 to collaborate on an idea she had for a gift for her Priest, Dave Johnson -as a retirement gift for 30 years of priestly ordination. She requested a king sized quilt using the Tree of Life as a centerpiece. She worked with me via text, email and phone calls and gave me the important details of the quilt. She gave me sketches she hand drew and sent them to me.

Some of the details in the quilt she designed included 4 hearts - representing the 4 close family members who had passed away - Mother, Father, Sister and Brother. In addition to the hearts of the Tree of Life - the 7 churches and cathedral that Rev. Dave Johnson represented as well as baptism, holy orders, matrimony, confirmation, extreme unction .

Saint Stephen Cathedral

Saint Stephen Cathedral

If anyone can tackle this project - well, I’m that guy. The deadline for completion was May 27th, 2019 and I needed a plan, a timeline, a pattern and lots of help as we only had about 4 months of time to turn Bobbie’s thoughts and ideas into a king sized 110 x 110 quilt.

First, I contacted Carolyn Zanko, also known as one of the best math head quilters in Duluth when it came to design. She came to the studio and I showed her the rough draft of the sketches and we got out the graph paper and ordered all the supplies. Here’s Carolyn with the bolts of fabric we ordered in Kona Cotton Solids.

Carolyn Zanko getting the fabrics ready for cutting.

Carolyn Zanko getting the fabrics ready for cutting.

Carolyn came up with the math and prewashed the fabrics and started sewing the sawtooth inner borders as well as the applique Tree of Life center block. All the math and cutting was done by Carolyn before she left for Hawaii for 4 weeks.

The next stages were to find good images for the surrounding blocks on the internet and somehow transfer the images unto fabric. I was able to use a projector and projected the images from the internet directly onto the blocks with a water soluble blue pen. How would we create the 7 churches and the 5 scenes? Hand Embroidery! Similar to “red-work” but using green and black thread. I knew Hand Embroidery was a very slow technique so I called upon the Award winning hand embroiderer -Teri White. She came to the studio and we hovered over a computer buying the perfect green and black embroidery 8wt thread by Aurifil. Here are some of the blocks in process. Teri completed the hand work for the cathedral and the 5 scenes.

I started to work on the hand-embroidery blocks - and I realized it took me an entire weekend to finish ONE block by hand. I called Leslie Hughes who was coming to the studio and watched as this project started to become a quilt and offered to help finish the churches. When Leslie offered to help me - I knew we would get this quilt finished by the deadline. Without these 2 women - I don’t think it could have happened in 4 months.

Once the blocks were embroidered and appliquéd - I had to finish the Tree of Life center block hand- applique’. Cheryl Dennison who is my right hand woman since 1997 - helped me glue tiny snippets of fabric to our appliqué “map” and the prep work began for the appliqué. She took over the sewing of the blocks, squaring up the blocks, sewed sashing and the final borders once the applique was finished. Cheryl also made the backing which is also Kona Cotton in “Dove”.

After hours of hand-embroidery, the hand-applique design began and the center Tree of Life became the focal point. This center pattern was slightly modified and re-drawn from a Amish Tree of Life Applique design that came from the Pennsylvania Amish and hearts, flowers and grapes were added. The hand-work was rewarding

And then the quilting began! The full sized photo of the finished quilt is at the bottom of this page - But if you are still with me - I bet you have questions. How do you remove all those blue marks? What batting did you use to make it look like that? (Quilters Dream Wool and Poly select) How many hours did this take? Hundreds?

Here are some photos once the quilt was on my longarm quilting machine. The main borders were premarked before I loaded my quilt to the frame. The purple disappearing ink went away in 2 days but the blue marks had to be removed. This is the best product in the world for blue pen removal.

Shout out to Blue Line Eraser for the best product to remove blue pen marks

Shout out to Blue Line Eraser for the best product to remove blue pen marks

Bobbie gave me creative freedom to quilt anything on the quilt but I had an idea of the traditional quilting she loved. She had shown me some of the quilting styles she liked and we went from there. The focus of the quilt is “The Lord Jesus is the Tree of Life” and it started to feel like God’s work. God’s work in the quilting community is a term that means “as quilters -we can offer comfort”, That’s God’s work. That’s my job, man. This thought kept me going forward and the quilting became joyful. Here’s some in process photos of the quilt on my APQS longarm Millie frame (she’s the best machine and my best friend).

The following are the in process photos which included a hanging sleeve, binding and the backing label. The finished quilt photo is below.

Tree of Life Quilt for Rev. Dave Johnson for Bobbie Edds by Karen McTavish and the Quilters at McTavish Quilting Studio (112 x 112) Duluth Minnesota

Tree of Life Quilt for Rev. Dave Johnson for Bobbie Edds by Karen McTavish and the Quilters at McTavish Quilting Studio (112 x 112) Duluth Minnesota

Longmont, Littleton, Denver and Lousiville -Colorado

I recently returned from Colorado after teaching for a week of quilting on domestic and longarm. I stopped in Littleton, Louisville, Longmont and Denver. I had the opportunity to speak at the Longmont Quilters Guild and was introduced by the raddest woman on the planet, named Rebecca Weise of Weise Studios.  Here is the introduction Rebecca gave me at the guild in written form, and I must admit - I was impressed and a bit emotional hearing all those nice things. After the lecture the guild of 300 quilters, the guild gave me my first ever standing ovation - another moment where I was near tears. 

"Tonight we are in remarkable company.  Tonight our Guild welcomes the beautiful, eccentric and upbeat Karen McTavish -- a woman of extraordinary substance who is deliberate in action and word, self-reliant, fierce and afraid of nothing.  As you will soon find out, her best asset cannot be measured, copied or calculated, it’s her energy, wisdom and mojo.  

Sort of like love or happiness, Karen’s personal and professional success is a practice and has stayed on a steady, upward trajectory.  In her youth, she faced struggles, found her bearings, submerged herself into the soothing effects of quilting and used those life-changing experiences to become the one of the greatest quilting mavens of our time.  

Karen won’t tell you this (as she is perhaps the most low-key, humble, non-bragging, grateful professionals in the quilting world) but she is one of the most sought-after quilters in the professional circuit of quilting.  

Other great and famous quilters and fabric designers hire and collaborate with Karen to quilt their masterpieces, including Judy Neimeyer, Victoria Findlay Wolfe, Heather Givans of Crimson Tate, and the list goes on.  

Almost all of Karen’s customers and students win ribbons and best-in-show at local and national levels. 

And this year started off with Karen being awarded the 2017 Road to California "Outstanding Modern Quilt" Award and the 2017 Minnesota Quilter of the Year.  

Beyond these merits, what I most want to share with you is the Karen inside here (touch heart) and here (touch head). 

Karen has paved the way for so many with her great wisdom, deep wit, huge empathy, a spectacular sense of humor and a profound resonance and resilience you rarely see in any one, man or woman.

Karen is a total love and an artist of the highest order as she lives to express herself freely in all things that she pursues.

She has always been an artist by choice, a quilter by profession, and above all, an artist of life.

As a loving mother and daughter, she operates with a grateful heart.  

And as a sage beyond her years, she has come to accept life as a process and is satisfied that in her ever-going process, she is constantly discovering, expanding and finding that there is something new to learn and be grateful for every day. 

Karen believes that all knowledge is self-knowledge and finding your own personal authenticity carries great weight and ultimately becomes the only real measure of success.  You must be YOU, and embrace your gifts, in order to make your life click and to rise to any challenge.

To be of quality in quilting, or any art form, means putting in lots of hard work, learning lots of lessons and giving all your dedication and attention to your skill.  That is why Karen is sought after and that is why she remains at the top in our field.

Beauty, clarity, authenticity and singleness of purpose:  These are the attributes I ultimately use to describe Karen and her priceless work.  

Without further hesitation, please join me in welcoming the beautiful Karen McTavish"

- Written by Longmont Colorado Quilt Guild President - Rebecca Weise of Weise Studios


Karen McTavishComment
Fons & Porter PBS "Love of Quilting" episode 2903

Learn how choosing threads for quiltings can have a huge impact on what your final quilt looks like! Join Angela Huffman and her guest Karen McTavish at the longarm machine to learn how threads–their weight, color, and sheen—interact in your quilting design. Build confidence as a quilter in both free motion and stitch-in-the-ditch longarm quilting, and pick up all kinds of useful tips from two renowned quilting experts! Click the link below for a preview of the show!

Karen McTavishComment
Minnesota Quilter of the Year 2017

The 2017 Minnesota State Quilt Show will be in Duluth Minnesota this year!!! The Minnesota Quilt Show handbooks are now available at  my studio if you would like a booklet. The Minnesota Quilt Show will be at the Duluth Entertainment Center (DECC) on June 8-10, 2017. I will be teaching lots of classes at this show! I will also have an extensive exhibit of my favorite quilts throughout my life as required by the show. Because I will be teaching, I wont be hanging out at the exhibit but will be at the banquet and will get to the exhibit as often as I can.  For more information on this quilt show - go to

As you can see - I no longer post colored photos for selfies. I am straight up in " black and white" photos now - when you are old, you get to do what you want. 

Karen McTavishComment
Road to California "Outstanding Modern Quilt" award 2017

Mary Kerr, author of "Twisted- Vintage Quilts with a modern twist" commissioned me to quilt her "Z is for Zoe" vintage quilt about a year ago for her book. Today I received a call that her quilt won "Outstanding Modern Quilt" - which is mind blowing. Road to California is likely the most competitive quilt show in the world, based solely on original work. The show prides itself on originality and creative expression. I didn't know the quilt was entered in the show, and I also didn't know it would be judged when it was quilted. I did quilt the quilt for publication and wanted the quilting to show up  on the page. In all honesty, using high contrasting thread felt very vulnerable and was not my comfort zone.  The prize award is $5,000 and that is split between the owner of the quilt and the quilter. I also subtract any amounts paid to me for quilting and incorporate it into the award. Its a win/win for both parties and we all walk away feeling great.

Karen McTavish Comment