Last fall, Nancy requested that I make a quilt for Elissa, who is going to spend a Semester at Sea starting in September.
But her specifications were somewhat unusual. First, the size. She wanted something "bigger than a twin, but less than a queen". This is because Elissa has a queen-size bed at home, but the beds on the ship are twin size.
Next, she wanted to provide all the fabrics! As she explained: "All the fabrics are from Tanzania. We support a school there (Mwereni School in Moshi), for hot lunch program, water borehole, and farm projects. We go every other year to see progress and friends, and are gifted each time with a traditional fabric. The two red fabrics are traditional Masai fabrics that were given to us on safari to keep warm!!".
So between the size requirement and the pre-defined fabrics (and their patterns!), we had quite a challenge on our hands.
But Nancy had some clear ideas for the design. Some of the fabrics had images of various African animals in a range of sizes; she wanted these to be prominently featured. There were several others that she wanted to use as borders. Then there was a beautiful fabric with a large (30" x 41") stylized baobab tree. We went back and forth with layouts and dimensions. (By the way: did I mention she lives in L.A.? So everything was done via email and photos and Excel designs.) We pretty quickly decided that this would need to be a two-sided quilt, as the baobab was too big and beautiful to either cut up or not use at all.
So by some careful measuring of the animals, and after rejecting a number of design possibilities, we came up with this for the front:
....and this for the back:
Totally says "Africa"! The finished quilt is 52 x 74, but amazingly, there are only 43 pieces in total!
When the fabrics arrived at my house and I opened them, I was bewildered. Nancy had said that she was given "red fabrics by the Masai...", but she sent me some plaids! There had to be a mistake. So I went to Google and typed in "Masai plaid" and found many references (here is one). Yes....the Masai make fabrics featuring plaid patterns!!! Who knew????
Notice that the plaids on the front and back are two slightly different patterns and colors. And these were made of almost yarn-like threads; much heavier than the other fabrics, which are traditional cotton.
As I mentioned above, due to their different sizes, the animal prints had to be fussy cut. Since we wanted the plaids to be the sashing, I also had to fussy cut each horizontal and vertical strip (again, different sizes!), so that the plaid-lines would flow seamlessly around each animal (and around the tree on the flip side). Not easy, and there were a few mistakes that had to be redone. Luckily, there was enough fabric to accommodate.
Which was not true of most of the others. There was only ONE of each of the animals....extra careful measuring and cutting there! The blue zebra fabric (front, top and bottom inner borders), had 3 vertical repeats, but to get the size we wanted, these two had to cut into the third. So again, no margin for error.
The outer border on the front: this was another strip of fabric (sort of like a medallion), with these borders and a centered orange decoration. So there were 4 "corner" pieces (i.e., they contained the border plus the 90 degree bends) . These were carefully cut. The rest of the borders were cut and pieced to make the correct lengths, and to fit in with the corners.
The border on the back was a similar fabric: borders, plus an inner pattern of flowers, except a) it did not contain those "corner" pieces, and b) it had some strange words written along the edges. Again, I had to fussy cut and piece to get enough fabric to fill the desired lengths and width.
Quilting: between the size of the quilt, the bulkiness due to the plaid fabric, and the design layout (e.g., large baobab), I was unable to quilt this myself. So I had Maureen do it at Quilter's Heaven. We choose to use green-red-gold variegated thread, and to do straight line quilting in a 4" grid. These combined to highlight and replicate the plaids on both sides.
And about those words:
It is Swahili and means "All these are inspired"!
This is truly a great way to describe Nancy and Elissa: Inspired and inspiring!
Safari ya salama, Elissa!