Quilters Lead Pieceful Lives.

Saturday, March 25, 2017


My mother has been an artist her entire life.  For many years, she painted, primarily using oils. She painted this picture in the early 1960s:

I have always loved it. The colors, the starkness, the isolation....yet the path goes somewhere and you know the tree will bloom again in the spring. The painting itself is only 11.5" x 9", yet it displays unlimited depth.

As a boy, this picture hung in my bedroom; now, it hangs in my quilt studio.  I have looked at it often, and then last fall it hit me: why don't I make a quilt of it and give it to my mom!

This is way out of my comfort zone, so the idea and the process had to percolate in my mind for several months. I did some research on "raw-edge" quilting. This is where you build up a picture piece by piece, with fabric shapes (for a very literal picture) or scraps (for something more abstract). You can applique the pieces (hence the "raw-edge" tag), either by hand or by machine. You can also use fusible web to "glue" the pieces on to the background (again, with or without applique).

In my search I found a wonderful web site from fabric artist Leni Wiener (http://leniwiener.com/) which included a video on "How to create a fabric collage from a photo". This video explains clearly explains the process of turning an image into a piece of fabric art. Much of it deals with determining the color values of the various parts of the photo; something I did not have to deal with here, as my objective was to replicate the painting as closely as I could. But I emailed Leni and explained what I wanted to do and she eagerly gave my other tips and encouragement (both were much appreciated!).

Some of you may remember my "Sunflower Mosaic" quilt, in which I "copied" a van Gogh painting in fabric. That was also raw-edge, and fused, but the image (and each part within) was much bigger. So I was able to make that with small overlapping squares. I did not feel that that technique would work for this piece. But I still wanted to fuse the tree and fence fabrics to the background.

So here is the process I developed:
  • I took a photo of the painting, and printed it full size (so it was 11 x 8.5; not exactly the size of the original, but close enough).
  • Leni showed me how to turn the photo into a gray-scale image.
  • I printed the gray-scale image on a transparent sheet of plastic (for you oldsters: what the teacher used to use on the overhead projector!). This allowed me to use this both right-side up and reversed (more later).
  • I then created a reverse image of the gray-scale one, and printed several copies. This is what I actually used to cut out the pieces (as templates) for the quilt.

You can see that most of the pieces are very thin. I was afraid that even with having the fabric backed with fusible webbing, some of them would just shred into tatters and be unusable. So to eliminate this potential problem, and to make things much easier, I did two things:

First, I made the tree and fence pieces out of two pieces of fabric fused together. Though they look almost identical (in the finished piece), the tree fabric is actually a shade lighter than the fence fabric. So for each, I took one piece of fabric, ironed a piece of fusible webbing to the right side (usually a huge no-no), and then fused a second piece of the same fabric at a 45 degree angle to the first one. This is so the warp and woof threads would be at an angle and reinforce each other. This layering also had the effect of giving some dimensionality to the finished pieces. I then fused another piece of webbing to the back of the bottom piece (and left the backing paper on at this point).

Second, instead of trying to cut out the entire tree or each side of the fence in one continuous piece, I broke the reversed image up into logical pieces. That way, if any individual piece did fray or if I cut it poorly, the whole element would not be ruined. So the large part of the trunk was one piece; a big branch another, a smaller branch a third, etc. I did the same for the fence rails and posts. This allowed me to actually place the background posts on the outside of the background rails (i.e., posts first), and the foreground posts on the outside of their rails (i.e., rails first). Though not that easy to see in the finished piece, doing this better reflects what the reality would be.

Non-quilters may be asking: "Why use a reversed image?" 
Well....here's what happens next:
  • I cut out the pieces from the reversed paper image.
  • Then I taped them to the paper backing on the back of the fused fabric sandwich. Remember your math: two negatives make a positive!  So I have a reversed image piece on the back of the fabric. So when I next cut out that reversed paper piece again (to include the fabric), and flip the whole thing over, the final piece is now un-reversed!
  • Next I peeled off the backing paper (to expose the fusible web) and hand pressed the piece in its correct place. How did I know where to put it? I laid the transparent plastic sheet (right-side up!) over the background and lined it up; initially with the edges of basting threads I sewed on first, but as the image took shape piece by piece, I lined it up with the previous pieces.
  • Once it was in the proper place, I iron-fused it on.
  • Finally, I did some free-motion stitching with matching brown thread over each shape (the branches of the tree, the rails, and the posts). This added more texture and shading, as well as helping to ensure that the pieces would not come off.
Here are photos of the piece partially done:

Note that I added a little extra to the pieces that were on the edges. That was to insure that there would be no orange gaps showing through when I added the borders.

Now it's time to talk about the background fabric.
My original thought was to take varying shades of orange fabric and ragged-cut and place them horizontally. This would represent the horizontally-oriented brush strokes on the original. I figured I would reinforce this imagery with some horizontal stitching lines. So, the first place to always look is your fabric stash. I found some orange pieces, but nothing really excited me. At the same time I was exchanging emails with Leni; she thought the background had a silk-like appearance. BINGO! I had made this quilt with silk fabrics that I bought on our India trip. Was there any left? Yes!  Enough? Yes! And it is perfect. It has a ribbed texture and subtle shading that catches the light. Using this fabric, I didn't need to do any quilting in the background at all.

I remembered that working with this fabric was nasty; the edges of the silk were really prone to fraying. So, to avoid this in this piece, I fused a piece of lightweight interfacing to the back. This also added some firmness / stability to the silk.

So I fused all of the tree and fence pieces on. Next up was the border. Once again, I went to my stash to see if I could find fabrics to replicate both the brown-wood and the thin inner-gold highlight of the frame. Success again! I added the borders using mitered edges, again, just like in the original.

Finally, I mounted the finished piece by wrapping it around an 11 x 14 stretcher. That is the actual full size of the original.

And here it is:

I think it is pretty darn close to my mom's painting; no?

So....is this a quilt?  Well, technically, no. It is not made up of a fabric-batting-fabric sandwich. I guess you would call it fabric art.  Either way, thanks Mom for all the memories! xxx


Donna said...

I love this piece - for the inspiration, for the process, for the execution, for the results. Your work is so precise and inspires me to be better.

A Left-Handed Quilter said...

AWESOME!! - ;))

Clydean Hendley said...

I have really enjoyed reading about your quilts. I’m especially interested in your smaller version of the Labyrinth quilt.