I had a whole list of things I was going to do when I retired: travel, read, sew, make jewelry, paint, etc. Upon retirement, I purchased two things that I had coveted for years - an 6' ebony grand piano and a Viking sewing machine that all but talks back to you. My goals were to take lessons on the piano and make an art quilt. I had visited a fiber artist's studio loft downtown and was impressed by the creative way she worked with patterns, textures and colors. Her pieces were huge and in demand in commercial office spaces and hotels all over the world. I wanted to try my hand at making a large "quilt", as is my style - to jump in way over my head when trying something new.
My hubby had planted sunflowers several years ago in our back yard, and together with some heirloom tomatoes, I created the prettiest still life on my kitchen counter one summer evening. I wanted to capture the beauty so snapped a couple of pictures. Just for fun I started messing with the image in Photoshop, blurring the background. I loved the result and I decided that this photo would be the subject of my first art quilt.
Hurdle No. 1) Create a pattern.
I took the digital file of the photo and entered it into a cross stitch pattern maker called PC Stitch. The computer program converts a photo into a mass of tiny pixels and if you had every DMC floss color in the world (which I do), it would take you a year to stitch it. So I simplified the color palette and created white borders around the shapes that I wanted to eventually convert into fabric. When I printed out the pattern sheets for the whole picture, I had twenty-five 8 1/2" X 11" pages.
Hurdle No. 2) Matching the pattern pieces
Because I decided to do this quilt in squares (not sure that was the wisest of decisions) the individual elements of the bouquet and background overlapped into multiple squares. So each fabric piece, each petal, each leaf had to be matched with it's adjoining sections. What a pain.
I decided that I wasn't going to use the traditional applique technique, but just pin the pieces on a white backing and use a machined blanket stitch. That's actually a slight fib - I didn't know how to do the traditional applique techniques. But it all worked out. I started on one row and quickly discovered that I probably should have gone left to right and top to bottom. It was difficult and time consuming to match the elements, especially with the detailed flowers. I changed threads on each element to match each new color of fabric. Lot's of tag ends to clip!!
Hurdle No. 3) Every quilt needs a back!
Hurdle No.4) The quilting
I knew that someday I was going to have to face the actual quilting of my project. My new Viking was capable of free motion quilting. but I had never done it before. The Answer - take a class! I practiced and practiced to get a good rhythm and learn how to work the fabric through the feeder foot, but I was totally stymied by the many patterns within the project. I wanted it to look like a painting with thread, but didn't know how to get there. I had a friend who is an excellent quilter come over and give me some ideas of stitching patterns, and after quite some time (I must have just stared it for over a month), I decided to dive in and just start sewing. The more I stitched, the easier it became, and the farther I got, the more fun and intricate my patterns became.
Almost one year from the start, I finished my quilt, and dubbed it California Harvest. It measures 38" X 48" and hangs in my dining room. I still enjoy looking at it.
It's been a couple of years since I completed California Harvest. A quilting friend of mine sponsored my work in a regional quilt show, and it was so gratifying to watch the seasoned quilters gaze and admire it. It's not perfect by any real quilter's standards, but it was an accomplishment for me just to actually finish it! Amazingly, I am just about ready to try another one. I rather doubt I will use the same technique - there's got be an easier way:)