Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Making the Elwha River quilt

When the first dam was removed from the Elwha River  in the fall of 2012, and salmon migrated above the dam site for the first time in a hundred years, I wanted to make a quilt to commemorate the event.

I knew I wanted the majority of the quilt to be water, which presented a number of problems, including:
  • how to create the color and contrast of a clear fluid with the opaque medium of fabric
  • how to show the dynamic movement of falling water
  • how to make the fish look as though they are emerging from the water, and are not just pasted on it.

light-weight Pellon pinned over paper drawing of my turtle
I drew a sketch of the general shape of the water fall, and placement and scale of the fish, scanned my drawing, and enlarged it with an on-line program called PosterRazor, explained in an earlier posting.

After taping all the 8.5x11 sheets of paper together from my PosterRazor printout, I had a full-sized drawing.  I stapled this onto my design wall and pinned a very light-weight non-woven Pellon  interfacing over  the drawing.  I could see the basic outline of the drawing through the Pellon.  I don't have a photo showing this on my fish quilt, but you can see how easy it is to see through the Pellon to the drawing below on my turtle quilt.

I use seed flats to store scraps of fabric by color.  The flats stack nicely.
Then I raided my stash for every blue fabric I own from almost white, to almost black.  I keep bins of scraps from earlier projects, sorted by color, and these scraps became the bulk of the water fall.  I used an ordinary kiddy glue stick (washable) to attach the pieces of fabric in place on the pellon.  The good thing about a washable glue stick, is it does a half-hearted job of gluing, which means it is easy to pull off pieces that just don't work, and move them to another spot on the quilt , or toss them back in one of the bins.

Constructing the water was really a case of trial and error.  A lot of pieces got glued on, and the next day, pulled off.  Eventually I was satisfied with the water.  At this point, I used clear polyester thread and stitched the strips in place.  This wasn't incredibly exacting, but the edges of most of the pieces were snagged under the "invisible" thread.  By this time I knew I was going to add a top layer of silk organza, so stitching every piece in place wasn't necessary--quilting was going to finish the job of securing each piece, with the organza keeping the lose bits from coming undone.

I cut a layer of silk organza (from Dharma Trading (they sell a reasonably priced, good quality silk organza) and covered the entire piece.  I did this because I was not satisfied with the didn't seem misty enough,  I felt the organza would help blend the colors a bit better.

I looked at a lot of photos of salmon jumping water falls, to get the shape of my fish.  The fish are cut from gray batiks and layered over with bridal veil to give the impression of fish scales.  The lateral line and shading around the gill slit were added with Berol Prismacolor pencils, and iron to set the the color.  The feedback I got from the quilt Judges at the LaConner Quilt Show said the fish were too small in relation to the water...i rhink they are right.

I pinned my fish in place, and stitched them down with a very narrow zig-zag stitch and invisible polyester thread from Superior Thread.

Then I made my quilt sandwich and free-motion quilted the piece on my domestic sewing machine.  I simply followed the flow of the water, and used a mix of threads from silver and white through to navy blue.  The hard part was keeping it all flat, with no puckers, because there are five layers in play--the backing fabric, the batting, the Pellon base, the quilt top and the organza.  I lightly quilted the piece working from the center out, this helped hold everything in place, and prevent puckers.  Then I went back in and quilted more densely.  The Judges at LaConner said my free-motion stitches were too small.  The stitch length should have been longer.  To that I say, oh, for pity sake. 

The bottom panel of the quilt, which in retrospect, I don't like, is micro-stippled with the words, "home to the last".  I drew the letters on with a fine-tipped chalk marker, then stitched the outline, and finally micro-stippled inside the letters with white, light-weight #40 wt.  polyester thread

The final step was to add beads--silver, blue, pearl, white and clear to represent the splash and add a bit of sparkle. On the water across the quilt.


1 comment:

  1. A masterpiece of a quilt! Something I aspire to someday... But a question, please. At any point, did you sew the fabric strips for the water together, as in turned applique?

    Thanks for your help
    Karen F