Garden Tip: Hybridized Hobbies

Wild, Wild Plum quilt. Click image for larger view.

I met Carolyn Skei 20-ish years ago on the other side of heavy double plate glass windows. I wasn’t a bank teller, and she wasn’t a cashier at an all-night truck stop in a bad part of town. She was screening calls for my radio program, and she was in the control room, I was in the padded cell they call a studio.

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Carolyn was one of the Master Gardeners who were earning hours as they got my callers lined up to go on the air. She was a friendly, quiet lady with a beautiful smile. That’s about all I got to know.

One day, however, Carolyn brought in some pieces of polymer clay jewelry she’d made at home. Oh, my! It could have sold in any store in Texas, and this great lady had made it herself.

Soon thereafter the job of editor of my magazine came open and Carolyn asked to submit an application. She laid a resumé in front of me that was as dazzling as the jewelry. She was an honors undergraduate and Masters graduate in literary and editorial fields, and she had been a senior editor for a major California university. And she wanted to work alongside me! Oh, my! (Again)

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Carolyn was editor of my GARDENS Magazine for more than a decade. She edited all my garden calendars. And, most importantly, she edited every word of Neil Sperry’s Lone Star Gardening, my book. She can help a horticulturist turn words of struggle into sense and still leave him pride of accomplishment.

She is just a spectacular person.

Carolyn loves photography. And gardening is her passion. Although she spent years living outside of Texas, this is still her home state, and she loves it.

Carolyn in her workshop. Click image for larger view.

Quilting has become her way of life for the past many years. She lives, sleeps, and dreams quilts. She teaches innovative quilting techniques, and she inspires would-be art quilters. Her quilts have traveled as far as Europe and Australia in juried shows, to hang in galleries, and sometimes in private collections. Carolyn travels as well.

Carolyn’s full quilt (“Quicksilver Country”) showing her creativity and imagination of the old Big Bend Country, a prospector’s long-abandoned cabin, and nature having its way ever since. Click image for larger view.

And so it is, all that stirred in, that I come to present her latest blue-ribbon winner from the 2024 Dallas Quilt Show last week. In the Small Contemporary Quilts division, “Quicksilver Country.”

I asked Carolyn to explain its background. Here’s what she wrote:

“Most quilts that have attracted notice and prizes for me in recent years draw inspiration from my photographs. “Quicksilver Country” is based on a photo I took in Texas Big Bend country, near the historic towns of Marathon and Terlingua. There are remains of forsaken homes in the area, succumbing now to the elements and the vegetation of the low desert. The region was once “quicksilver country” — mercury mining country. So these old doors and the decaying home are likely remnants of the life of a speculator who pinned hopes and dreams on making a living, or maybe even a fortune, in the mines of this very rugged part of Texas.”

“Texas Truck, Marathon,” digital photograph. Click image for larger view.

Explaining her techniques in creating her quilts, which have a commonality of look, Carolyn continued,

“I often manipulate my photos on iPad — searching for just the right inspiration from just the right app. I am a puzzle solver at heart, so once I can envision the quilt, at least vaguely, I am on my way, choosing fabrics and evaluating the design elements — lights, darks, color, line, etc. Stitching, both by machine and by hand, is the final step.”

Polymer clay necklace.
“Longhorn Reverie,” pinhole image transfer on polymer clay.

I very much encourage you to visit Carolyn’s website,, where you can see her many great forms of art. Click on “Galleries” and then “Mixed media art” to see the polymer jewelry where my amazement began that morning back at the radio station.

Painted: collaged fabric book. Click on image for larger view.
San Antonio Guitars quilt. Click image for larger view.

And while you’re in “Galleries,” click on “Art Quilts.” In the scroll at the bottom, the second one from the left named “Elba Isle Hancock” is Carolyn’s grandmother, and it’s six feet tall. The detail is spectacular. It was widely honored several years ago. It now hangs in a private home in New York.

Carolyn with award-winning “Elba Isle Hancock” quilt. Click image for larger view.

Gardening is the world’s best hobby. If you’re a gardener, do as Carolyn has taught us. Combine gardening with your other hobbies or vocation:

If you’re a scout leader, help your scouts plant trees.

If you’re a civic leader, lead your city in beautification.

If you’re a teacher, teach your students how to feed the world.

If you’re a parent, let gardening be a part of your family’s activities.

Thank you, Carolyn, for all the beauty you bring to our world. What a great example and friend you are!

Neil Sperry
Self-appointed president,
Carolyn Skei Fan Club

Posted by Neil Sperry
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