I once read an article about “divorce quilts”, textile art projects made to help process the difficult decision to end a marriage. I can definitely see the therapeutic value, but I like what customer Beth M. had in mind much better… she asked me to make a quilt celebrating the start of her and her children’s new life.
The overall design of her quilt is vintage 1930s, a postage stamp Irish Chain design on a white background (all the squares are reproduction 1930s fabrics.) Appliqués appear in the areas formed by the chain, each turned under and hand embroidered with a blanket stitch – again, an old-fashioned, classic technique.
In a way, the design builds on history to create a new future. That feeling is echoed in her choice of appliqué ideas. There are blocks that represent heritage – a shamrock for Ireland, a thistle for Scotland – and blocks that represent now – a beloved family pet and shared activities like movie watching. Every single element in this quilt is meaningful and all are designed to symbolize the foundation on which she and her children will create their new life.
When Beth and her children curl up in this quilt, it’s not just their bodies being warmed, it’s their hearts, too. This is why I make quilts. I want to create beautiful, thoughtful, treasured keepsakes that touch people deeply. Laugh, cry, reminisce and dream about your bright, new future ~ a good quilt should encourage all that and more.
I was already working on one quilt for customer Crystal S. when she contacted me about a second.
This one would be for her mother-in-law, a wonderful woman whom Crystal described as “sort of like everyone’s mama bear.” Armed with the additional notes that her favorite colors were blue, purple and pink and that she had a country decorating style, I set about creating three draft ideas… and got them ALL wrong. The bear was too cute and the colors too babyish.
But this is why I always say,
“If the designs I’ve sent aren’t on the right track, please let me know how I can revise them – I’ll work up additional designs based on your input.”
I’m never married to any of the quilt ideas I suggest. My entire goal is to create the quilt you, my customer, have always wanted and any information you can provide that gets us closer to the perfect design is welcomed with open arms.
So I took Crystal’s recommendations and went back the drawing board, coming up with this modified Irish Chain design:
The warmer pink and dusty purple coordinated perfectly with the country blue and the appliquéd white mama bear with her two silhouetted cubs popped against the background. As usual, Shirley over at Embroidery by Shirley did a fantastic job including all the family names to add an even more personalized touch.
I’m pleased to be able to create this cozy and comfy quilt for a woman her loved ones describe as “always giving so much or herself to everyone and never [asking] anything in return”. Even though I didn’t nail her mama bear design the first time out, with the help of terrific feedback, I’m sure this ‘bear-y special’ quilt we came up with together will be treasured for years and years to come.
The Sun Sets on Sunbonnet Sue…
One of the most famous applique quilt designs of all time is Sunbonnet Sue, the darling little youngster with her face hidden under a huge hat. Based on children’s books from the early 1900s, Sue is the probably the most adorable quilt pattern ever created.
And that’s the problem – she can be a bit too cutesy for some people. By the 1970s, a group of quilters from Lawrence, KS (my old home town) determined they’d had enough of sweet Sue and they decided to kill her off. Each quilter created a block showing Sue meeting her demise in some terrible, and terribly funny, way, including tied to railroad tracks, eaten by a snake, and, since it was the 70s, even hit by Skylab!
The finished 20-block quilt, called “The Sun Sets on Sunbonnet Sue” (see it here), became notorious in quilting circles and was eventually donated to the Michigan State University quilt museum.
Although applique, applying a shaped piece of fabric to background material, probably started as a way to patch clothing, by 980 BCE, the Egyptians were using it to decorate gazelle hide canopies with hand sewn animal images. Modern quilters tend to avoid gazelle hide, but applique is still a beautiful design choice.
I often recommend an appliqued quilt pattern when customers want an intricate, less geometric look – or when lettering (a name, for instance) is needed.
Animal applique continues to be a popular motif, as you can see from this toddler’s turtle-themed Whimzie Quilt. The turtles were attached to the background with heat-activated adhesive and then the edges were oversewn by machine. Want a more folk art/country look? Picture your favorite design with decorative hand sewn black thread around the edge.
Or we can leave off the stitching all together for today’s popular raw edge applique look.
I’m gonna stick like glue, stick, because I’m stuck on you.
~ Elvis Presley
Stuck for a Great Gift Idea?
Do you find it hard to buy gifts for the people in your life that just don’t fit into the usual categories? The versatility of applique solves that problem!
Take for instance one customer’s baby girl predestined to grow up a Boston baseball fan. It’s not easy to find nursery items that are, one, Red Sox related, and, two, pink! But, with applique, I was able to reproduce the team logo in fabric, changing the classic color scheme so it was perfect for a little girl.
With custom applique quilts, it’s always the right color, the right size and the right gift for the hardest to buy for on your list.