Susan Beal’s modern crosses quilt

Susan Beal’s favorite “modern crosses” quilt, as it appears on the cover of Modern Log Cabin Quilting.

“Susan is teaching people older techniques and ways of working, but updating the aesthetics and offering new ways to personalize projects that are very ‘now,’” says Namita Gupta Wiggers, curator for the Museum of Contemporary Craft. “Her projects are just as likely to attract someone who’s grown up quilting in a church group as someone who comes from a DIY-punk background.”

The arrival of her now-3-year-old daughter (named, unsurprisingly, Pearl) steered her away from buttons and beads and metalsmithing’s toxins toward the safer art of sewing. Modern Log Cabin Quilting relates her discoveries, both historical and technical.

“Craft is like healthy, nutritious food.”—Susan Beal

?Researching the archives at the Aurora Colony and Bend’s High Desert Museum, Beal traced the western migration of Amish quilting patterns via the Oregon Trail and revived such early-19th-century designs as “cabin in the cotton,” “straight furrows,” and “barn raising.” But to these chronicles of pioneer life, with their abstractions of tiny homesteads and rows of crops, Beal offers plenty of modern updates: wacky sashing, incorporating salvaged bedsheets, and her own open-ended quilt pattern she’s dubbed “random log cabin.”

 Susan Beal's books
Beal’s new releases, World of Geekcraft and Modern Log Cabin Quilting.

Chronicle Books approached Beal with the idea for World of Geekcraft. Titled after the video-game phenomenon World of Warcraft, it’s essentially a guide to using traditional craft techniques to re-create the final frontier of fantasy and gaming. Initially reluctant (“I loved Ms. Pac-Man in elementary school,” she concedes, “but I’d so much rather just read a book.”), she tapped serious gamer friends for ideas, like local writer and deep Dungeons & Dragons devotee Chelsea Cain, and navigated her way through the fantasy world like a history student tracing a trade route. Many of the projects are beginner-level, like simple comic-book-style “zap” and “pow” refrigerator magnets. But Beal also incorporates more “Jedi-level” pursuits designed to lure the Comic-Con set into the sewing room: needlepoint replications of Atari-style pixel patterns and quilts made with the dots and dashes from lines of Morse code.

Beal credits the “portal of the Internet” for making craft a viable career. “Sites like Etsy,” she says, “have created an equal playing field for anyone to succeed, from high schoolers to ?retirees.” The nerdy Southern girl who spent her high school years stringing broken jewelry on dental floss because she wasn’t able to find any good how-to books is now contemplating assembling a panoramic history of contemporary West Coast craft—as she defines it, “of everything to the left of painting and sculpture.”