Many of you ask about my process of constructing an art quilt. In this post I want to show you a little glimpse behind the scenes. I’d like to use my latest quilt, Maples on Water, to show how I go about coming up with an idea and executing it.
My first step in building a quilt is to find fabric which truly inspires me. To me, this is the absolute most important step in the process. If I don’t have a strong emotional connection with the fabric I will be unable to move forward. When I do feel drawn in by the fabric and can’t stop staring at it, we have the “bingo” moment. I’m hooked and I have to have that fabric.
This past September I was in Lisa Reber’s (DippyDyes) booth at the Pennsylvania Quilt Extravaganza. Lisa is a master at creating beautiful hand dyed fabrics. As my friend, Karen, and I started pulling fabrics off the hangers and opening them up we started having a “bingo” fiesta. One after the other, we found color combinations and patterning in the dyes that just sparked the imagination.
These were a sampling of what I purchased from Lisa. I think the bottom green is what I used in Maples Over Water. Some of these other fabrics you will, no doubt, be seeing as spring of 2018 approaches.
I pinned the large piece of fabric on my design wall and just let it sit there for a few days. It reminded me of Monet’s Water Lilies. I also determined that I wanted to keep this quilt very serene and uncluttered. I wanted it to be a work that truly showcased this beautiful fabric without covering it all up.
To come up with the above design I simply googled “images of maple branches over water” and gathered the best photos I could find. I drew, freehand, the above branch designs on freezer paper and cut them out for my pattern. I ironed “Mistyfuse”, to the back of all my fabrics to be used for branches and rocks, cut them out and pinned them to my background.
Once I was happy with the arrangement I fused them with my iron and stitched them down. Even though they were fused, I needed to stitch down these shapes and this time I chose to just stitch them with a straight stitch near the raw edges. I know many of you do this all the time but, for some reason, it’s really hard for me to just leave the edges raw. Part of me is just screaming “but it doesn’t look finished!” Oh well, “be brave”, I told myself.
The next step: maple leaves. I painted sheets of Evolon, a non-woven polyester and nylon product, in shades of red and yellow with my fabric paints. I gathered leaves from my maple tree right outside my front door and scanned them into my computer. With a little Photoshop magic I came up with this image which I scanned into my software for my Cricut cutting machine.
This image can be enlarged, shrunk, flipped, and rotated so I can get a variety of sizes. I simply feed my painted Evolon, which also has Mistyfuse ironed to the back, into my machine and click the button to cut out all the shapes.
I think the hardest part of this quilt was coming up with good shades of color for the leaves. Many of my paints were too bright and flat. I mixed darker shades of paint and also shaded with Inktense pencils until I got the colors which would look good with the mottled dark shades of the background fabric.
After much trial and error, I decided to coat real leaves with Lumiere Acrylic fabric paint and stamp the Evolon leaves with this copper color to get the veins to show. I was so happy with the result. The stems ended up being too skinny to stitch so at times I had to resort to stitching back and forth across them. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I painted and cut the ferns in the same way that I made the maple leaves and pinned every single piece up before sewing.
Looks great, right? Now, how could I save this arrangement but take all these little pieces off to quilt the background? I wanted an overall water-like quilting design with circular ripples around a few leaves that had touched the surface of the water. My solution was to take a picture of the arrangement of leaves and ferns in each section, then take them off and put them in separate zip-lock bags labeled with the section number. I then stitched down the few single leaves which were on the surface of the water with only a few stitches and loaded the quilt onto the longarm quilting machine.
In the lower right corner of this picture you can see the circular ripples of water I quilted around the leaf. It took me no time at all the quilt the rest of the water design on the quilt without having to stitch around all those little leaves. Big time and sanity saver!
After that, I simply looked at the section picture, pulled the leaves and ferns out of the corresponding ziplock bag, arranged them on the quilt and stitched them down on with the longarm machine. The nice thing about Evolon is that it doesn’t fray. I only stitched the leaves down on the veins and not the edges. Scary, huh? I think it looks better this way without so many needle punctures in the leaves. There is also more dimension in the leaves.
One more thing you might notice in the above picture is the shading of the water below the rocks. I did that with grey and brown dye based markers.
I learned a couple of important things in this process. Keep trying out new ways of achieving what you want. Who says you can’t paint or use markers on a quilt? Research your basic design, looking at lots of images. Make your own composite design. Use the elements that you find most pleasing. Add or subtract elements as you go. Notice the rocks in the foreground which weren’t there at the start? Thanks, Shiela! Next time make the stems of the maple leaves bigger. Also, round out the shapes at the tip of the leaves a little before cutting. I had to snip and shape the tips of lots of the leaves because they were so skinny I couldn’t stitch them down – just like the stems. Now I know. Lastly, get over yourself about the raw edges.
I know many of you enjoy reading these posts about my process. Many of you have come into my booth at shows and asked many questions about my process. Now I have a two requests for you:
- Would you be willing to fill out a short survey so I can hear your most pressing questions about quilting or sewing? Obviously, if you are not interested in quilting or sewing, this survey is not for you. Your email is required in the survey but you will not be spammed. If you fill out the survey I will know this is something you are interested in and I’d like to send you more information like this post or some “how to” videos.
- If you wish to comment on this blog post, you may, but I would much prefer that you save your comments and put them in the survey. It’s very short.
You’re the best!