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Stitching Side by Side: Diana McClun & Laura Nownes

Peek inside the studio of renowned quilting duo Diana McClun and Laura Nownes. Plus, get their tips on everything from auditioning fabrics to what to do with old rotary blades.
  • Working Together

    Longtime quilting gurus Diana McClun (front) and Laura Nownes rendezvous every Monday in their just-about-perfect studio. There the fabric flies as they puzzle out designs and spur each other to take artistic risks.
  • On the Outside

    Our House, a quilt Diana and Laura recommend for novice quiltmakers, hangs on the door of their Walnut Creek, California, studio, which looks like a conventional two-car garage with a second story. .
  • Looking In

    After writing the “bible” on the craft of quilting more than 20 years ago (Quilts! Quilts!! Quilts!!!), their 23-year creative partnership is still thriving, nurtured in the light-filled studio-built-for-two behind Diana’s home and garden.
  • Picture Perfect

    Diana's oil paintings adorn the staircase wall, which is painted the exact shade of blue that Monet used in his workshop studio in Giverny, France. The quilt hanging down the side of the basket is Bouquets for You. The folded table runner is titled Chinese Coins.
  • Stylish Storage

    Diana and Laura keep their stash in well-ordered cabinets, baskets, and the floor-to-ceiling shelves of a fabric storage room.

    TIP: Hang quilts you use frequently on thick plastic hangers. Diana McClun and Laura Nownes keep quilts they use for trunk shows and lectures in five large zippered suitcases, packed and ready to take on the road. For more permanent storage, consider a chest. Diana had one made for her living room. Patterned after old linen chests, it has interior shelves so there isn't so much weight pressing down on the folded quilts. Hers has four shelves that hold 40 quilts.

  • Creative Organization

    Diana and Laura organize their stash by color, stripes, batiks, conversational/kid prints, Christmas, polka dots, large florals, and designers with defined looks.
  • Teaching Success

    Diana's oil painting of papayas hangs in a corner in the studio kitchen. The cookies are from Laura, who makes homemade treats for all her quilt classes. As established as they are, both women profess a fondness for teaching beginners. Their books, instructional DVD, and 40-odd patterns from their company, From Me to You, utilize clear instructions for quilting novices.

    TIP: Three Tools a Beginner Needs
    Diana: Beginners need to have a willing attitude to learn. They need to believe they can do it. If they bring that, they can do anything. Next, they need a mat, rotary cutter, and a plastic ruler.

    Laura: Rotary cutters and mats have revolutionized the whole industry. Then you need a sewing machine in good working order. That's really crucial. Otherwise beginners can get frustrated and feel defeated from the get-go. You don't need all the bells and whistles, but you need to be able to sew without broken thread, clumping, and jammed stitches.

  • Decorative Dining

    Diana decorated her dining room table with flowers from her garden and eye-catching place settings.
  • Cotton Creation

    Diamond Jubilee is made with cottons from Art Gallery Fabrics.

    TIP: Write the word "bad" on the handles of dull rotary cutters so you don't attempt to use them on good fabric. They are still useful for cutting paper.

  • From Old to New

    The two house blocks reveal how things have changed. The one on the right was made in 1988 with country-looking prints. The one on the left demonstrates Diana and Laura's more vibrant and innovative current approach to color.
  • Beginner Basics

    Diana embroidered these blocks as a youngster.

    Three Things a Beginner Has to Have: Laura: Enthusiasm is number one. Then a love of fabric. I also want to say patience, but I don't want to scare anyone off. You have to be gentle with yourself. It takes time and practice. We all think that we should get it right away. Really, it's like kindergarten—it takes a while before we can master anything.

  • International Treasure

    Diana treasures this Chinese checkers set her father made for her.

    TIP: Think "pressing," not "ironing." Pressing won't distort the fabric. You need a good, heavy iron with a sharp point, says Laura, who favors Black & Decker or Rowenta steam irons.

  • Looks Can Be Deceiving

    A fragrant 'Just Joey' rose in Diana's front yard adds to the studio's lush setting.

    TIP: Audition fabrics by pinning them to design boards and stepping back. "If you are looking at the whole bolt, that's not what will be in your quilt," Laura Nownes says. "We buy and cut fabric at close distance," Diana McClun says, "so if you never put the fabric on the wall and view it, you can be disappointed."

  • Bigger and Better

    Diana, top, and Laura peek out from behind their Sensu (Fan) quilt as it hangs in the garden next to their studio.

    TIP: For design boards that blend into the wall, paint two 4x8 sheets of fiberboard the same color as the wall, then hang them. While fabrics need to be pinned to the boards, Diana and Laura prefer a fiberboard design wall to a flannel one because they feel fiberboard wears better than flannel, which they say can look ratty over time.

  • Universal Quilting

    Victoria Simpson of Galt, California, did free-motion quilting on Sensu.
  • Backyard Wonders

    Hanging along the garden path in Diana's backyard are (front to back) Shoji Screen, Sensu (Fan), Through the Window, and Bow Tie.
  • Antique Inspiration

    For a touch of decadence, a decorative fringe trim was added to Pinwheel, based on Diana and Laura's Bamboo and Pinwheels quilt pattern.
  • All About Detail

    This detail of Bamboo, also based on the Bamboo and Pinwheels pattern, reveals how much it differs from Pinwheels.

    TIP: Wait to buy border fabric until the quilt center is done. "Let the quilt help decide the borders," Laura says. "We might try 10, 12, 15 fabrics before we find the right one."

  • Around the World

    Asian fabrics were used for Origami Pinwheels.

    TIP: Use a reducing glass to look at fabrics and potential blocks. Colors become diluted as they decrease in size, so it's important to see fabrics in the scale of the finished quilt. "Quilters will avoid disappointment if they take a little more time in the design process before they cut," Diana says. "You also have to be willing to sacrifice some pieces. Put them aside and make a scrappy quilt."