Susan Slesinger – Botanics – Opuntia


Opuntia, also known as prickly pear, sabra and nopal, is a member of the cactus family.  Like all cactuses, it is native to the American continent.  Opuntia grows throughout the Western United States, as well as in Mexico and the Caribbean. In Southern California it grows wild along the roadside in coastal areas.

Prickly pears typically grow with flat, rounded cladodes (also called platyclades) which have two kinds of spines; large, smooth, fixed ones and small, hairlike prickles called glochids, that easily penetrate skin and detach from the plant. Many types of prickly pears grow into dense, tangled structures. New cladodes grow out of existing ones, and pieces can also be planted to start a new growth.  The young leaves are edible once the spines are removed, and are called nopal (paddle.) They are used in a variety of Mexican dishes.  The fruit of many varieties is edible.  The fruit varies in color from yellow-orange to a deep wine red.

The prickly pear plant is also the home of the cochineal, a scale insect, which feeds off nutrients in the paddles.  The cochineal produces carminic acid, which is used to create carmine dye and red food coloring.


The design was based on a series of photographs that I took of Prickly Pear cactuses.  Unfortunately, I was unable to safely access some of the best specimens to photographs.  The batik was created under the watchful eyes of Jonathan and Beth Evans of the Shalawalla Gallery in La Veta Colorado.  The process involved layering dyes from lightest color to darkest to create the image.  As the cloth entered a series of dye baths, the areas which were the correct color were protected with layers of hot wax.  Towards the end of the process the wax started to crack, allowing some dye to seep into areas, creating the crackled effect.  Once the piece was finished, the wax was boiled away.  The quilt top was layered and machine quilted.  Handmade cotton yarn and beads were added to replicate the thicker, visible spines.

Materials:  Bleached cotton fabric, Procion MX dyes, wool batting, cotton yarn, cotton, polyester and silk yarns, commercially printed fabric, glass beads.

Techniques: Whole cloth   Batik with Procion dyes,fabric painting with Procion dyes,  machine quilting, hand embroidery and beading.


Close up View






  1. I’d say that the only way to safely see this desert beauty is in your fabric reproduction! Sounds like you had fun constructing it too. 🙂

  2. We have the prickly pear here on Saba too. What a fun process of making this whole piece in a kind of batik. It must have been very exiting to see the progress. Love your background quilting and the added beads.

  3. I like the bright colors of your piece, like if it was under a bright sun. The perspective with the bigger cactuses on the foreground is really interesting.

  4. You must have had fun creating your background piece of fabric. The way you created the prickles with thread and beads works well. A unique piece of work. I am not sorry that we don’t have these plants in the wild here.

  5. Love the way that you have created the prickly pears and their spikes…. a great subject!

  6. Susan and excellent choice, I am assuming that you dyed the fabric, this makes it so much more precious. Love the beading. Cheers


    What a great way to show the cactus. Exciting how you made your background and ingenious how you translated the spikes. I love to see pictures of cactuses, but don’t like them in the house. Unfortunately my husband brought in several sorts of them, so I have to deal with it… haha.

  8. A very effective piece that shows off the character of the Opuntia. I particularly like the way you have made the spines.

  9. The colours and construction in your piece are really well done. I like the detail you have added and the quilting work really well with the overall feel of the piece. Well done

  10. Lovely how you created the batik. I like the intense quilting of the background. A great way to make the spines.

  11. Interesting technique for creating the design. Love the spines

  12. I remember these from the years I lived in California! Desert plants are amazing in their ability to survive in harsh environments. You’ve created a beautiful piece. The beads work well.

  13. What a interesting process for the background. The prickles look great

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