Quilter Spotlight: From Traditional Upcycling to Creative Quilting

Apr 16, 2022 7:00:00 AM / by Alyssa Nordmeyer

Quilting journeys are different from quilter to quilter. However, for Kelli Fannin, it all started when she was a child.


Kelli comes from a long line of quilters, where her grandmothers and great-grandmothers would make scrap quilts by upcycling and reusing old, worn, and outdated clothing to create stunning quilts.


This inspired Kelli to start quilting herself, beginning in high school when she started sewing nine patches for her mother. Eventually, she turned to quilting in her 20s and the inspiration for new patterns grew when she had her son.



Our Current Exhibitionist in the AccuQuilt Quilt Gallery and GO! Getter, Kelli Fannin


Today, Kelli runs, among other things, an Instagram account that showcases her beautiful projects. From her Instagram biography, you can find links to her Etsy shop to purchase and download her patterns, her helpful website, YouTube tutorials, her Facebook page, and her Twitter. Clearly, Kelli has made an impact on many since she currently has over 10,000 followers on Instagram.



From Bright Bicycles to Spectacular Spaceships 

AccuQuilt's Quilt Gallery features Kelli Fannin's quilts in our current exhibition. We were lucky enough to interview Kelli to learn more about her quilting journey and the gorgeous quilts she has created. Read on to see how Kelli has grown as a quilter and for inspiration from this creative quilter!



Kelli Fannin's First Quilt, Mod GeoCruiser



AccuQuilt: Let’s talk about some of your quilting patterns because you have made some fun ones. The first one you did (Mod GeoCruiser) was sort of an homage to your husband, right?


Kelli: Yeah, that’s when I really figured out how to design, like the math. Once I figured that out, I thought, “Oh, now I can put all the things from my head into quilt patterns.” He’s a cyclist, so he’s always wanting to stop at the bike shop, and he can loiter at a bike shop looking at tires and gears - like all day. I would start looking at the cruiser bikes. I love those. I thought, “If I’m going to enter this contest, I’m going to do this.” So, I made a big [beach] cruiser bike.


I had [a beach cruiser bike] at home [to go off of]. Not th[e] specific one [in the pattern], but that’s what started my whole designing journey because that was for a contest. It ended up winning, and people were asking, “Oh, where’s the pattern for this?” I had to figure out on the fly how to write a pattern, so that is what started it all.


AQ: Right! Now, Expo is one of my favorites because I love the bright colors of this quilt, and I love the triangle shapes. Talk about your inspiration for creating this pattern.



Kelli Fannin's Expo Quilt


K: I like sewing straight seams – they’re easy, and even if you’re a beginner, you can sew a straight seam. You can make really fun things. I tried to do [this pattern] where two blocks would interact with each other and make an extra pattern to the quilt.


AQ: I love when you create blocks and you have another pattern hidden. Now, you also created this really fun one called Wife of Pi. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?


Kelli Fannin's Wife of Pi Quilt


K: I was working with a company called Triangles on a Roll and they had this triangle paper. [The representative from the company] sent me the triangle paper to see if I could come up with a design for it.


I’m not a huge matching person with angles and seams, so triangles are a challenge for me. The paper made it where if you use this paper, you’ll be flawless, like your points could match. I just designed this interlocking triangle thing out of the triangles, and my husband and son are very “math-y,” so I figured they would like that one.


AQ: So that one started off as foundation piecing?


K: Yes.


AQ: That’s amazing! The next one – I have to tell you. Erica, who works in our office [as AccuQuilt's Corporate Marketing Specialist], she is a big fan of you, and she has made the Stitch Happens quilt. It hangs behind her during all of our Zoom calls.


Give us a little bit of background about that one because obviously, it’s a sewing machine and it’s true to your heart.



Kelli Fannin's Stitch Happens Quilt


K: I do a lot with Riley Blake [Designs]. They’ll send me a fabric line and ask, “Do you have any ideas for this?” or “Can you come up with a design for our promotional material?” What they did is that they asked me if I could make a sewing machine quilt a certain size for one of their market booths.


I was left thinking, “Hmm. There’s so many sewing machine quilts! And there’s so many sewing machine blocks. So, if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it a little bit different, but mix in the traditional blocks with it.” It was a lot of trial and error, moving things around, and that’s where it ended up. It’s been, by far, my most popular pattern, even still, and it’s been a few years now.


AQ: Yes! I often see it – people are making it, I see it on social media, like, “Oh, I just finished this one.” It’s just such a fun block. The thing I love about that particular pattern is, like you say, you took traditional quilt blocks and made them part of the sewing machine, so you can see the little pinwheels in there and the other little blocks in there.


K: Yeah! I like to mix in traditional things with the more modern things because that’s kind of where we all come from anyway, you know? It’s like the history of how we all got here.



Kelli Fannin's One Giant Stitch for Mankind Quilt


AQ: One of my favorite patterns is called One Giant Stitch for Mankind. I understand that you created that after a family vacation. Is that right?


K: What happened is that Riley Blake [Designs] was coming out with a NASA-licensed line and so, they wanted to know if I had any ideas. I had always, since I was a kid, wanted to see a space shuttle launch. Then, we had our son and I thought, “Maybe we can take him someday,” but then, [NASA] stopped that.


I had gone to Quilt Market in 2015 with Triangles on a Roll, and my husband and son flew in at the end of it. We went to Johnson’s Space Center, and it was just so cool. Those memories are all wrapped up into that design I came up with for that NASA fabric.


AQ: The thing I love about that particular quilt is that so many times, we go on family vacations, and you think, “Gosh, I really want to remember that,” and obviously, you take photographs, but wouldn’t that be fun if one big trip a year, you made a quilt to commemorate it? How great that would be, and what a priceless heirloom that would be for your kids. I love it!



Kelli Fannin Quilt Designs Logo




But Wait, There's More!

While our interview with Kelli was exciting, she was also kind enough to go into a bit more detail on these quilts (and others!) afterward. 


Kelli explained later that Wife of Pi was designed in early 2015 and uses traditional piecing and 60-degree triangles. Additionally, Kelli created the One Giant Stitch for Mankind pattern by integrating traditional blocks into more modern shapes and designs. She utilized the same method for the Stitch Happens wall hanging pattern, and, after a request from Riley Blake Designs, created a larger, lap sized version she calls Sew Big or Go Home.



Kelli Fannin's Sew Big or Go Home Quilt


For the Fall 2014 issue of Gen Q Magazine, Kelli designed Into the Woods, which she created using many different shades and prints of blues and greens to make a spring-like lakehouse feeling. However, she could definitely see this pattern using darker forest greens and winter-like plaids or Christmas colors.


Kelli Fannin's Into the Woods Quilt



In 2016, Kelli created a customized quilt for her son's birthday, using t-shirt designs from his favorite videogame as inspiration. Kelli informed us that it is easy to make something like this using AccuQuilt's square dies, rectangle dies, and half square triangle dies, which are also all found in each of the GO! Qubes. She said that children as young as eight years old were proficiently working on this project during their sew-along since it is perfect for beginners.


Kelli Fannin's Quilt for Her Son's Birthday


Kelli made the Homestead Betty quilt after she was inspired by The Farmer's Wife Sampler Quilt and the Jane Sickle quilt at the Bennington Museum. This is an heirloom sampler with a modern twist that Kelli says even a confident beginner could tackle. This quilt uses all straight seams and is chain piecing friendly.



Kelli Fannin's Homestead Betty Quilt
The Jane Sickle Quilt from 1863, as pictured on the Bennington Museum's Website



The Color Outside the Lines quilt was first made as a lap size quilt, but Kelli also created it as a mini wall hanging pattern. She used only scraps, including some vintage ones from her grandmother.



Kelli Fannin's Color Outside the Lines Quilt



Let Your Imagination Run Wild with Your Next Project

We hope that Kelli’s story has inspired you to use more creativity when designing new projects! As Kelli has shown, the possibilities for quilting ideas are endless.


To see the full interview with Kelli and see more of her spectacular quilts, check out this video:




What will you make next? Don’t forget to use the hashtag #AccuQuiltBuilt and tag @kellifanninquilts and @AccuQuilt so that we can see your amazing creations!

Topics: Quilting Stories

Alyssa Nordmeyer

Written by Alyssa Nordmeyer