I was given an unusual task recently of taking a t-shirt blanket and turning it into a t-shirt quilt. Unfortunately it involved taking the whole thing apart. So I sat down with a movie and a seam ripper last night and got to work. I was surprised when I finished taking that entire blanket apart right as Dazed and Confused finished up, and it got me to thinking.
A blanket and a quilt really are two very different things. Don’t let anyone tell you they are the same. A blanket is one or two pieces of fabric connected at the outside edges. A quilt is a “sandwich” with a top layer, usually pieced or highly decorative, a back, and a thin middle layer of some type of stuffing – polyester, cotton, wool, or any blend therein. Those three layers are then quilted together with thread. They can also be tied together using yarn or embroidery floss. The effect is two layers of design playing off one another. The layers blend and create an overall effect.
If someone sat down with a seam ripper to pick apart a well-made quilt with appropriate quilting throughout, there is no way that they will finish picking it apart by the end of a single movie.
The hardest part of my process is the fact that I can’t show you all current projects because they haven’t been gifted yet. So until I can show you this year’s haul, I’m going to talk about something else that is important, and I’d LOVE to hear from you.
What is in your creative space? I don’t mean your tools. I mean what art or decor do you have that helps you establish your creative flow?
For me, I have surrounded my sewing room with artwork. Most of it is from my absolute favorite artist – James C. Christensen. I first found out about him when they turned one of his books into a cheesy Hallmark movie called Voyage of the Unicorn. I was fascinated and looked up the original book, Voyage of the Basset. From there I found out that the author was primarily an artist and was a professor at Brigham Young University. I learned he passed in 2017, and I was actually in my sewing room when my uncle, who also likes him and bought me an autographed copy of his book, texted me. I choked up as I looked around and realized how much his art defined my own creativity. The featured picture is called A Place of Her Own, and I plan on getting that print one day. I feel like he captured my soul in this painting.
His artwork is so complex and beautiful. I loved all the layers his people wore, and the depth and symbolism he used. He had successfully created another world.
I even have one of his paintings in puzzle form. It’s in a frame in my classroom. It’s a piece called All the World’s a Stage, and it has all of Shakespeare’s plays represented in one way or another with Shakespeare himself in the center. I’ve labeled as many as I could. My students stopped class one day to finally ask me about it because they’d been eyeing it since the beginning of the year.
In my creative space, I have other prints both big and small. One of my favorites was a gift from my husband for my birthday. For a long time it hung in my daughter’s nursery, but I reclaimed it for my new sewing space when we moved. I loved the notion that story-telling was like setting sail.
The Listener is also right above my cutting and ironing area. This one fascinates me because I end up noticing something new each time I look at it, and I love the message of tuning out life’s distractions. My creative space is where I can do just that, and I’ll go into my own head and everything else just melts away. In a world where there’s a lot out of my control, my quilts and creative space are mine to own.
In addition to Christensen’s artwork, I have an original piece I bought at a silent auction. It’s a piece by artist Lori-Gene who I just found out passed away in 2014. Her site is no longer up – otherwise I’d link it. Here is another blog discussing her work. The frenzied fingers of the pianist mesmerized me and reminded me of my piano classes in college.
I also have a picture of the solar system my daughter drew. It was cute, but I especially loved it for one specific detail. The planet on the extreme right is Jakku. That’s right – the planet from which Star War’s Rey hails.
I have some other works by Christensen around the room, and my daughter has claimed a small wall nearby for her own artwork. My creative space is slowly also becoming hers. I love it, and it’s my happy place.
This quilt goes down as one of the most emotional quilts I’ve done. For starters, I was asked to complete it by another quilter, so I felt like it needed to be perfect. Another consideration was the fact that it was a memory quilt in memory of a younger person. I’d done memory quilts before, and it wasn’t the first one I’d made for a mother. But this one felt different, and I wanted more than anything to do the lady’s memory justice. After all, I remembered her memorial service because I volunteered to help in the church nursery while it was going on.
Some things that stood out, however, were that my normal medium was gone. This was not a standard t-shirt quilt. In fact, there wasn’t a single t-shirt in any of the bags of clothes I was given! But what I DID have was dress clothes. Clothes with cool textures. Clothes with beautiful embroidery. Clothes with unique colors. So I sat on the quilt idea and wondered what to do.
The mother, being a quilter, had suggested something akin to a “crazy quilt” style, but none of the patterns or images I found online seemed to be exactly right. I looked around and must have seen 100 different ideas on how a crazy quilt can look. And then one morning during my shower, where I do my best thinking, I thought of the 101st crazy quilt pattern!
Here’s the premise. The lady was an artist. Artists are all about color and balance and placement. So I would make a sort of art gallery out of her clothes. I would help to emphasize the “gallery” part by adding a shadowbox element to each of the sections. This would also allow all her different colors, textures, and details to be featured.
I started by going through the clothes. I’d just gotten a new/old dining table to use as a craft table. It was in my garage, so I stood there that night, listening to the chirping of crickets, at peace, sorting the clothes into the different color stacks. I had enough for eight different color panels. That left one empty block. Then I had an idea I hoped would work for the last block.
Since she was an artist, and this was her gallery, I went through her old Facebook posts until I found exactly what I’d hoped to find – her artwork! There’s some debate on whether the picture is a self-portrait or Tori Amos. She wasn’t exactly distant comparison. It was one of the few pieces I found, and I downloaded it immediately.
Now that I knew how many stacks I had and how many blocks I could make, I sent the mother a draft layout. We worked and switched a couple of color sections, and then I got the green light to start cutting.
One of the first ones I did was red. I’d been told she loved red; it was her favorite color. So it seemed natural to begin here. After that, I got better at my blocks and was able to knock out the other seven faster than I anticipated.
A close up of the pink square.
After that, I enlarged the artwork and used two pieces of fabric paper to print it out. It was still smaller than I needed, so I added a red border to make it the same size as the other panels and began piecing the top together.
I added the shadow boxes and was happy to see them coming together. It wasn’t long before I was able to send her a picture of the completed top.
Now the next challenge was with the quilting. I thought long and hard about doing a simple stipple pattern, but then I had another idea. I decided to revive the circle-swirl quilting pattern because I wanted to add some whimsy to it. I also didn’t want to distract from the clothing panels, so I kept the main part of the quilting to the white area. I used the dreaded “invisible thread” to reinforce the clothing panels and make sure they didn’t shift or bubble up. (Imagine trying to sew with fishing line and you’ll understand why this kind of thread is a last resort.)
We went back and forth on the backing and finally settled on a black, white, and red pattern. From there, I had to complete the last element – but maybe the most important. I had to make the label. That took some thinking because I didn’t want it to be a let down. I remembered that the mother was happy I’d chosen to focus on colors because her daughter’s memorial service featured a homily from a friend who described her in terms of color. I loved it and was startled because, as said before, I wasn’t at the actual service. I was in the nursery.
Keeping that in mind, I asked for a copy of the friend’s homily. I used phrases and created a label based on that. Now the lady’s sister deals in graphics, so she worked her magic and made my original label look far better.
I printed the label on fabric and sewed it to the back corner.
This quilt was a long journey, filled with emotion. But it was also filled with creativity and pushed me to new limits. In many ways, the artist from whom it was made inspired it, and I feel like she had a hand in its making. In the end, it was and remains an honor to have been tasked with making this. It is one of my favorite and proudest works.
Related Blogs and Posts – these are different memory quilts:
My current situation is strange – much stranger than usual. I have a crafting weekend at the end of March, and last time I spent too much time cutting and not sewing. So this time I plan on mostly sewing. To get a head start, I’ve been making “kits” of precut fabric all ready to assemble. I’m up to 14 kits in various stages of readiness.
Last year I made around 14 4’x4′ quilts I called “stadium quilts”. The idea was that they were all in local school colors and could be used at games. They were big enough to cover a lap but small enough not to drag on the stadium steps. I’ve sold all those, so I plan on making more as well as some traditional lap quilt sizes. I’ve been having fun and trying to use up a fair amount of my stash to boot!
I think the kits are definitely the way to go. I have already “broken in to” a couple of them.
Hi everyone and welcome! This blog is the partner of my Facebook business page: www.facebook.com/questquilts. Here I plan on discussing my favorite hobby, quilting, and all the facets of it that make it such a beautiful art form. I’ll also document projects and such as I explore new methods and create designs.