I did tell you my quilt won the first prize in the Husqvarna Viking India, Pfaff India, Handi Quilter India Quilt Competition 2015? I also promised to share with you the story and the making of this quilt! So here it is, my quilt “Seasons in the Sun” !
The Facts and Figures
Theme of the Competition : The Joy of Flowers
Original Design based on a personal photograph, no copyright issues.
Size – 36.5 x 50.5 ( after blocking).
Fabric Used – Cotton fabric `Fossil Fern’ by Benartex and poplin solids by Umaid Mills, India ( entirely from my stash).
Stabilizers – Heat n Bond Red and Pink, local fabric fusing single sided as well as double sided.
Polyester batting 150 gsm
Threads – Cotton, invisible nylon, polyester blend and rayon silk.
Machine Used – Husqvarna Viking Topaz 20
Free motion quilting mainly; built-in HQV auto sensor used for other quilting ( on large appliqué pieces)
Techniques – Regular piecing, foundation piecing, raw edge appliqué and fabric fusing (with paper backed stabilizer), painting using Derwent Inktense pencils.
The Story of the Quilt – The Quilt that Wouldn’t Not Be!
When I first read the theme for the Competition, my reaction was, “Oh, no!” I have painted a lot, but flowers, landscapes and still life only bore me. If it was to be the joy of flowers, the only thing that came to mind was this beloved photograph, faded beyond recognition and the negative lost! I made every excuse not to make it. I had no idea how to do an art quilt. I prefer piecing and for the life of me how was I going to piece this? If I had to appliqué, I like only needle turn hand appliqué! Raw edge appliqué is really lazy, isn’t it? And most importantly, where did I have the time? So I propped it up on the table in the spare room and surfed the Internet for ideas for over two months.
I found hundreds of flower photographs and dozens of exquisitely crafted flower quilts; sadly, none of them called out to me to make anything like them! I obsessed with This Quilt, dreamt of how it would look! I lay awake drawing up and rejecting various techniques for constructing it. Finally, I knew that I had no option but to venture on what was likely to be a disaster…and started studying portrait quilts.
Seasons in the Sun
This photograph transports me back almost thirty years. It was our first car, a second hand Maruti 800, and we were on our first trip to the enchanting Simla Hills with our almost–four year old son. It was in the times when vacations meant a holiday with your grandparents or cousins or even a pilgrimage. The economical car had just been around for a couple of years; The Great Indian Tourist was yet unborn and the Himalayas were largely untouched by any outsiders but pilgrims.
We stopped for the night at almost every other turn of the road, spending the day exploring the area or just lazing around in our hotel, having dinner under the Milky Way so bright that you could almost reach out and touch the stars. Small settlements – Parwanoo, Kasauli, Barog, Kiarighat, Chail – it took us five days to get to Simla from Chandigarh, a distance of just over a hundred kilometres! We did not care for crowded Simla and travelled further up North to Kufri, Naldera, Narkanda. And then to Mashobra on our way to Wild Flower Hall, an old colonial style palace.
There had been flowers in every crevice in the rocks everywhere we went, but in Mashobra the flowers went wild! The hills were covered with white, yellow and lavender. We stopped on the roadside, laughing for no reason but the joy of being alive! Our son ran up the hillside and as he looked down at us, squinting in the bright sunlight, this photograph was taken.
We have been back many times, but strangely, this is the only trip that is etched in my mind in every detail. So this picture brings back to me the heady smell of pine, the singing of the wind as it flows through the thickly forested slopes, woodroses and pine cones on the slippery pine needle covered ground. But mainly it is the flowers…flowers covering every inch of the ground…flowers dancing in the scented mountain breeze…
Life caught up with us, bringing us many trials and much sorrow, but this picture never fails to raise hope and a smile in my heart, just like all those wild flowers daring to bloom against all odds. A feeling of exhilaration, of the pure joy of flowers…
I dedicate this quilt to our very special daughter, Tana, who has bravely and inspirationally borne much pain and disability and to whom I have made this promise:
“On the wings of golden sunshine
Soaring ever higher
Blazing a trail of hope and freedom
For others who live in drear
From the jungles of your mind, you’ll fly
Into flower-kist mountain air. “
(Concluding stanza from my poem “The Dance of the Butterfly – A Mother’s Promise”, written in November 2011)
I also dedicate it to Rushu, the best brother in the world, the little boy in this quilt, who has stood by her at every step of the way. I have made a mother’s promise to him also – to make the head (slightly flattened from the top) of this portrait okay. Now that we are though with the competition, I shall get around to doing that.
This may not be the quilt I am most proud of, but I have no doubt it will be the quilt I shall love the most, as I grow old and dream of seasons in the sun …
I scanned the photograph and increased size to 36” x 45” approximately. Printed 32 pages through an Excel file and spread them on the dining table to make the template for the quilt. We ate on the sofa for almost two months, except the few times when we had guests and grumbling, I had to shift my stuff to the bed in the guest room.
Confusion, Deliberations and Decisions
This done, I wracked my brains on how to go about the actual piecing/ applique.
As you can see the bottom half of the quilt required a great deal of work and the top half was open expanse. I originally planned to do the boy’s portrait first on a blue background, then just cut up the selection of green and browns (from 12 different delicious fat quarters) into strips, place them randomly to denote the wild riot of foliage and do a fine stippling to hold them in place. The flowers and trees etc would come up last.
This did not appeal to me. I wanted a `quilty’ quilt. Otherwise I would paint a picture, wouldn’t I? I am more of a ‘piecer’ and raw edge applique did not seem like real quilting to me. These were mere excuses, I think! The real reasons were – my brain understands order better than chaos (those stems and flowers were a senseless riot!). Most of the selected fabric in my stash was in the form of fat quarters. It would be easier to handle reasonable sized blocks. This meant, roughly, that I would get the background ready first, make the portrait separately and applique it on top of the background and then add flowers and stems as necessary.
For the background, I decided to adapt a technique taught by Wendy Saclier in a workshop for crazy quilting published in ‘Quiltskills – Workshops from the Quilters’ Guild, Australia’ by The Patchwork Place. I would piece the quilt in the form of a grid of 5” squares set on point. The quilt would have a 7 x 5 grid plus the setting triangles; the next step was to mark the grid. I had to increase the width of the picture to accommodate the full squares.
Another creative decision ( sounds very important, doesn’t it?) was to change the colour of the flowers to yellow from white. The colour of the shirt which was gold, blue and white would then have red instead of the yellow, and the trousers blue instead of yellow!
Laying the Foundation
I cut foundation pieces in green fabric started the piecing from the left bottom corner. I was not following the picture exactly, just a sense of the direction in which the plants are leaning, the foliage clearing up and the colours lightening as you move from left to the right. I also used larger pieces of fabric towards the top and to the right, to emphasize the feeling of ‘openness’. An additional problem was that the stems were not only vertical, but horizontal and slanting too. The foundation piecing was basically, therefore, improvised, just lightly marking the strip direction on fabric with a pencil.
Much as I loved this challenge and the results, each block took ages to grow.
Scaling the Skies
Skipped to the sky after seven days and only one corner completed in the desire to see the quilt come up faster.
I posterized the picture ( Used Microsoft Office Paint to reduce the number of colours), took an A4 sized print out and used that as a guide for colours, which were not too clear in the enlarged poster. This was a trick I picked up from Marilyn Lee, master art quilter, who is generous enough to hold free classes on Facebook. Check out her `Classy Quilts : The Art of the Art Quilt’ page. I only wish I had found her a bit earlier than I did.
Half the top plus pieced in a couple of hours!
The Flower Strewn Hills
Back to the lighter foliage on the right bottom corner. Much faster and piecing part of top almost done.
Then moved to the left, to start the work on the background this side.
Adding more foliage…
Left the centre panel, where the boy is half crouching, un`blocked’. Top background done, time to paint … er…appliqué on it.
Stick ‘n Sew
I used a combination of fabric fusing and sewable stabilizer to appliqué. The trees in the background came up first. I used the fern stitch on my machine to sew them to the background, to mimic the look of pine needles. By the time this quilt was completed, the `unsewable’ fusing on the darker fabric had started peeling off and had to be sewn back in place. The greenery on the distant hillside on the right came off altogether, and I had to paint and quilt in that area!
Back it Up!
Meanwhile, we had only 3 weeks left for the deadline. So I made the backing, before starting on further applique. The amount of applique would depend on how much time I had at hand! The backing used the only matching yardage in my stash. I wanted to emphasize the `slope’ hence added a solid to separate the two main fabrics. I discovered that the slope had been cut in the wrong direction, but I did not have fabric to re- do it and eventually, it really did not matter!
I cut and sewed a piece of denim from my old jeans for the trousers in place on the background. The boy’s torso was built up separately on white fabric, to be joined to the main quilt top through quilting.
Here is a close up of the shirt completed.
The Joy (?!?) of Flowers
Now to start on the dozens and dozens of flowers and stems…Once the trees were in place, I cut out dozens of flowers and stems of all lengths and widths from 1/8″ to 1/3″ approximately. I was first numbering them, following the template poster, but very soon realized the futility of it and gave that up!
I used a zigzag stitch for most of the appliqué, as it best resembled the movement of a pencil across paper, when ‘shading’. To emphasize a 3-D effect, I sewed the stems down with invisible thread on one side and a contrast colour thread on the other. The flowers were also stitched down at the edges with invisible thread, the separation of petals was done with yellow rayon thread later.
Halfway through, I made the cardinal error of adding a stabilizer to the top to facilitate the appliqué. This would prove really troublesome when quilting.
Yet more flowers and stems from fabric which had paper backed adhesive attached to it, placed and ironed on the top…
I left only the uppermost layer of flowers and the boy’s arms and head undone. They would be sewed / attached during and after the quilting. Finally ready to layer the top with the batting and backing and start quilting!
When the Quilting Gets Tough…
The quilting was tough literally and figuratively. The various layers of one sided interfacing, that I had used as stabiliser, made the top stiff and the needle gummed up. To add to my misery, I had spray basted the sandwich! Till I was forced to peel off the top and cut away the layer of stabilizer where I could. It was so difficult to sew in some parts that at one stage, I actually flung the quilt on the floor in despair. I had tiny holes in the fabric, especially where I was using invisible thread. ( Spraying them with water removed those later, but right then they were really scary). I changed to a smaller sized needle and that seemed to work better. I used a close zigzag stitch / satin stitch in most places in the foliage area to quilt stems which would hold the layers together. For the sky, I used a regular straight stitch and zigzag stitch.
I considered attaching the orange flower centres with applique, but scrapped the idea, because they would stand out in strong contrast, detracting from the whole picture. Inktense pencils were used instead. I also used them to add depth and greenery to the distant hillside, as the adhesive had come off the raw edge applique done with non sewable Heat n Bond. The arms were similarly shaded, I did not have fabric the right colour.
I was running out of time and the head had been giving me several problems right from the beginning. I had posterized the face to obtain a clear demarcation of colour to help in the patchwork. The eye portion stood out like two black holes against a pink face! I made up and scrapped two faces and the arms as they were too pink and looked nothing like my son. Now I scanned several photographs to get the right colours.
I finally found four fabrics in my stash which I could use for the face; I worked directly from the original photo instead of the print out. Nevertheless, whatever I did, the colour of the lips posed a problem. I even considered leaving the face blank, but it would not work with so many details in the other areas. I attached the cut out for the face; got the eyes, eyebrows, forehead, cheeks, nose, ears, neck and the neckline of the t-shirt ready separately to be built on it. The lips would be done with Inktense pencils!
Bind it Up!
Leaving things where they were, I did the binding now; seven different fabrics in greens and browns were used for the ‘land’ area and three blues for the ‘sky’ area. It was machined from the front and hand sewn at the back. This was the most relaxing part of the entire quilt making.
Let’s Face It!
I finally tried to sew the face parts, but the face area was too stiff to be stitched on. I had no choice but to rip it off. In the process of removing the face, I was ready to burst into tears as I made a cut in the backing fabric!. That is when I had the brilliant idea of attaching a ‘head’ to the back, to cover up the cut! I did the face anew, again using the original picture as the guide. I built it on freezer paper, which could be peeled and ripped off after stitching. This seemed to me much more satisfactory than using adhesive or stabilizer. I wish I had taken photographs but I was hard pressed for time! As mentioned earlier, I had only 4 fabrics in the correct skin tones so used Derwent Inktense pencils to give the face a more realistic look and merge the areas where two fabrics met. The eyebrows, eyes and neck had to be fused as I could not appliqué the tiny bits. (I have painted under them in case they decide to fall off). The completed face was attached to the quilt top from the edges.
The Finishing Line
When I stepped back to look at the quilt, there were areas which needed a touch or two, for which the Inktense came in use again. I skipped the sleeve as this will be framed under glass to protect it from the dust in this part of the world.
Cleaning up of the quilt for threads and blocking it on a mattress with a sheet on top of the dining table. I drew lines on the sheet and used a spray bottle to spray the quilt liberally with water; stretched it with pins at a distance of about 2″ on the lines and left it overnight. The rebellious areas had to be steamed into obedience with a steam iron held about an inch above the top.
Finally, the photography session. Including one of my photographer, who climbed a playground slide to snap a pic from high ground.
Here are all the pictures taken by the professional photographer. If you open these in a separate window, you should be able to see all the details.
Do let me know if you have any questions on the techniques and methods!
End of story: I repeat myself. Not the most technically perfect quilt I have made, but I love it!