Colors of Mexico put spice in $20,000 winning quilt

Karen Kay Buckley of Carlisle, Pa., left, and Renae Haddadin of Sandy, Utah, collaborated on “Fiesta Mexico,” which won Best of Show and $20,000 at the American Quilter’s Society QuiltWeek in April in Paducah, Ky.

Karen Kay Buckley based her block designs for “Fiesta Mexico” on pottery, decorative tiles and flowers she saw on multiple trips to Mexico. She hand-appliqued the quilt top.

Renae Haddadin quilted “Fiesta Mexico” on a longarm machine, choosing elements from the blocks as her quilting motifs. Learn about her professional longarm business at

Buckley’s sun block in “Fiesta Mexico” was inspired by the Huichol yarn painting, shown below, that she purchased in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Karen Kay Buckley’s sun block in “Fiesta Mexico” was inspired by this Huichol yarn painting she purchased in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

This butterfly block is a reminder of the monarch’s annual migration to Mexico.

Monarch butterflies wing their way to Mexico each year, and a Pennsylvania quilter frequently migrates that direction as well.

Karen Kay Buckley, this spring’s Best-of-Show winner at QuiltWeek in Paducah, Ky., was so inspired by the insects’ ritual that she included a butterfly in the lower right block on the brightly colored quilt titled “Fiesta Mexico.” Buckley lives in Carlisle, Pa.

“We went inland on a two-day driving trip from the Pacific coast of Mexico” to see the migration, she says, describing the experience as “one of the most incredible sights I have ever seen.”

Her large quilt, measuring 80 inches by 90 inches, doubles as a travel journal of many trips to Mexico. Its different patterns and colors are inspired by pottery, decorative tiles, Huichol yarn art and flowers from our neighbor south of the border.

The winning quilt was a collaboration between Buckley, who hand-appliqued her blocks, and longarm quilter Renae Haddadin of Sandy, Utah, who machine- quilted the top.

The pair shared the $20,000 purchase prize at the American Quilter’s Society event, and their quilt is now a permanent part of the National Quilt Museum’s collection in Paducah.

“Having it at the museum is a big honor,” says Haddadin on a video interview shortly after their win was announced.

She quilts professionally on a longarm machine, which allows its operator to mechanize the process of combining top, batting and backing into a finished quilt. The machine frames are large, 10–14 feet in length, and feature an industrial sewing machine head, a work table and rollers on which fabric layers are placed.

Haddadin says because Buckley’s design is not symmetrical, she found quilting it a challenge. Her goal was to use the open red space, or the background fabric, in an optimal way, so she pulled elements such as florals by Buckley and repeated them as quilt motifs.

“It’s the perfect specimen,” declares Bonnie Browning, executive show director for the American Quilter’s Society.

“Fiesta Mexico” also received a big honor last fall in Houston at the International Quilt Festival, garnering the Master Award for Innovative Artistry.

The quilters met several years ago while teaching at national shows and grew to respect one another’s work. This quilt was the first they made together, although more are in the works. Their long-distance relationship obviously involves some mailing between their locations, but shipping and entry fees are deducted from shared cash prizes, Buckley says.

For those who admire “Fiesta Mexico” and want to make their own version or perhaps separate blocks, Buckley has produced a 20-page instruction booklet with full-sized patterns.

It sells for $24.95 on her website,, and is distributed to some quilt shops. She offers DVDs on her techniques and on tools she’s developed such as Perfect Circles.

As an instructor also, she teaches others how to make smooth curves and sharp points.

Buckley says she uses two methods of appliqué, hand needleturn and what she refers to as “Templar and Sizing.” Her favorite needle is a Tulip appliqué brand made in Japan.

“They are very thin and have a very sharp point,” she says.

At this time, the needles are difficult to find in the United States, so she offers them on her website.

Professing no preference for hand appliqué or a machine method, Buckley says, “I think if you do it well, it does not matter ... each person needs to do what works best for them and gives them the best results.”

She’s definitely results-
oriented, having made more than 300 quilts, nine of those being best-of-show winners in various competitions and 14 of them being featured on the covers of national quilt magazines.

One of her favorite quotes from Oprah Winfrey best sums up Buckley’s philosophy:

“Luck is preparation meeting opportunity. If you hadn’t been prepared when the opportunity came along, you wouldn’t have been lucky.”

No one can ever accuse Buckley of not being prepared.

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