Wednesday, December 31, 2014

For the Birds

Our guild show is coming up in March 2015. I made this small piece in response to one of the challenges set for the show. It's titled "Out on a Limb" and is a huge drawing of a tree trunk with outstretched limbs. The drawing was partitioned off into sections and each section was assigned a season and time of day. The one I selected is Winter Night and as you can see, it is the very end of the branch. We were allowed to interpret our section however we chose using whatever techniques we chose, the only requirement being that the branch had to start and end exactly as drawn on our individual section so that when all the pieces are placed side by side the continuity of the tree branch is preserved.

I used several techniques on my piece. The sky was constructed using fabric weaving and was constructed on a piece of fusible batting. When the woven piece was finished to my satisfaction, it was ironed to the fusible, stabilizing it. The snow was made using Victoria Findlay Wolfe's made fabric technique. She was a guest speaker and artist at our guild earlier this year and I was eager to incorporate what I learned from her into this little challenge project. The cardinal and tree branch were done with fusible machine applique. At first the red bird did not show up to advantage against the dark blue of the sky background. Therefore, I fused the entire bird to a piece of sparkly silver Fairy Frost fabric. What I learned in doing this is that fusible adhesive does not adhere hardly at all to the heavily frosted surface of this fabric. That made it necessary to sew all around the edge of pieces to make sure they didn't fall off.

I used a pillowcase, knife edge finish as I did not relish trying to get a binding in dark blue and white to match up with the background sections of the piece. I fused a strip of Wonder Under to the wrong side of the backing, then cut a slit so that I could turn the piece inside out without having to whip stitch the opening closed on the edge. I am a good hand sewer, but I never think those whip stitched openings ever look really, really good.

After the backing was sewn on and the quilt turned inside out, I pulled off the paper from the Wonder Under and pressed the backing to the batting. This really helped in keeping the piece together while  quilting it. I quilted it using some decorative stitches and metallic thread. Lastly I embellished it with paillette stars in the night sky and iridescent sequins on the tree branch to suggest frosty snow. In addition to the metallic thread and sequins, there are quite a few fabrics that are sliver metallic or shimmery. I think the overall effect I wanted to achieve - of a sparkly, cold, snowy winter night - was accomplished.

Things I learned along the way:

1.While the knife edge pillowcase technique was supposed to save me time and hassle by not having to deal with a two color binding, it presented its own set of issues. One of them is the fact that with no binding to be sewn on to cover up the edges of the quilted lines, each and every thread had to be threaded onto a needle, pulled to the back, tied off, and buried. There were a lot of those to do.

2. With the amount of quilting the piece distorted and the edges are not straight (the cropping I did prior to uploading the photo corrects that in the picture) and are a bit wavy especially on the right hand side. This was exacerbated by the woven fabric night sky and the made-fabric snow which have all kinds of wonky seams.  You can't square up the quilt after quilting when using this technique, so it is definitely something to consider with this method.

3. If you are going to torture yourself with metallic thread, use a metallic needle. Enough said.

4. I need to learn to use a thimble. As calloused as my fingers are from making 2,000 hexies this year, the skin is not thick enough to push a needle through several layers of fabric backed with fusible and with fusible batting underneath that. Some of my DNA now lives in this little quilt.

5. Fairy Frost fabric does not fuse well.

By the way, the little caption above the cardinal reads "Winter is for the birds." Oh yeah, I also forgot to give the bird an eye. He will have one - done with silver and black Sharpies. The finished size is 24" x 16".


  1. what a delight and so much has gone into this piece, will be so interesting to see when all the pieces are put together, cannot begin to imagine what it will look like

    1. Good thing this is a small piece, with all that I have going on in it. I usually try out some new idea/technique on these small challenge pieces, and this one was no exception. Always something new to learn!

  2. This is really beautiful ME! I can't wait to see it with the other branches at the show!

    1. Yes, I thought this was a killer idea, thought up by Dolores Keaton.

  3. I love this little quilt, Mary Ellen! The whole display will look amazing, I hope you can post a photo.

    I'm glad to read about your experience with the pillowcase binding -- good things to keep in mind!