behind the scenes:
Lift Up quilt, a commissioned project

walking foot quilting Lift Up, a modern quilt by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill of Whole Circle Studio

This past summer I was selected by a committee of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven to create a commissioned quilt to honor and celebrate women who were being recognized at their 38th Annual Arts Awards ceremony. The commissioned piece, sponsored by Metropolitan Interactive, would not only be on display during the event, but would also be used on promotional materials for the event. To be completely honest, I was shocked and honored to be chosen. Unfortunately quilting isn’t always viewed in the same regard as other forms of art or illustration. I describe myself as a graphic designer and illustrator who’s primary medium happens to be fabric, thread and batting. Fortunately, I think people’s attitudes and preconceived notions about quilts are changing!

This commissioned piece was definitely a challenge as far as design. The theme of this year’s awards was “Phenomenal Women”. I felt a self-imposed pressure to design a quilt that honored women in a non-stereotypical way. I read Maya Angelou’s poem over and over. I thought a lot about attributes of phenomenal women.  I sketched, and sketched, and sketched. Some ideas weren’t feasible in the short amount of time I had to complete the project.

In the end, I kept coming back to one thing I was certain — phenomenal women lift each other up. I took that idea and ran with it.

Here are some of the initial sketches I submitted to the Arts Council for my Lift Up quilt:
Initial concepts for a commissioned piece by the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. Designed by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill of Whole Circle Studio for the 38th Annual Arts Awards. Theme: Phenomenal Women. Quilt: Lift Up

One of the traits of a phenomenal woman is that she is committed to lifting others up. She is committed to helping and supporting others. She realizes that there is room in this world for everyone to succeed and knows that by encouraging others, individuals, families and communities are stronger. I wanted this idea to come across in my quilt.

The Arts Council was amazingly supportive. They gave me their preference for layout, requested some minor tweaks and from there it was a race to complete the quilt in about six weeks.

I decided to work with solid fabric. I love working with solids and the variation in color I can create. I was also being practical—this quilt is fairly scrappy and I have A LOT of solids in my fabric stash that I could use up. Also, there would also be no potential copyright issues with reproducing the quilt by using solids. If I selected prints, the quilt would incorporate another designer’s work.

selecting colors

I decided to work with mostly warm colors, showing diversity through colors and hues. I pulled fabrics from my stash and auditioned them. The ones that played well together got cut up into 5″ squares (the grid size of the quilt):
auditioning purple fabrics for the Lift Up quilt. A scrappy, commissioned quilt by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill of Whole Circle Studio
auditioning magenta fabrics for the Lift Up quilt. A scrappy, commissioned quilt by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill of Whole Circle Studio
auditioning red fabrics for the Lift Up quilt. A scrappy, commissioned quilt by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill of Whole Circle Studio
auditioning orange fabrics for the Lift Up quilt. A scrappy, commissioned quilt by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill of Whole Circle Studio
auditioning yellow fabrics for the Lift Up quilt. A scrappy, commissioned quilt by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill of Whole Circle Studio

I played with color placement on my design wall. Each woman is constructed out of two simple blocks: squares and a traditional Drunkard’s Path block.
Playing with color placement: Purple woman for Lift Up quilt by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill of Whole Circle Studio

piecing the quilt top

Once I decided on my layout, it was time to trace, cut, pin and sew my curved Drunkard’s Path blocks together.

Making Drunkard's Path blocks for Lift Up quilt, a modern spin on a traditional block. Quilt designed and made by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill of Whole Circle Studio. Commissioned by the Arts Council of Greater New Haven.
pinning Drunkard's Path blocks for Lift Up Quilt

The curves for the women’s heads are significantly smaller than the curves in the bodies. The full circle assembled measures 3″ in diameter. Each quarter of the circle is 1.5″ wide and 1.5″ tall—way too small to piece on a sewing machine. It was a challenge to resolve and in the end, I created English Paper Piecing templates that I could wrap with fabric around and sew together by hand. Below is an image after the blocks were sewn and the paper was removed. I then was able to piece the blocks together on my machine.
Making tiny Drunkard's Path blocks to make circles. These blocks were so tiny, I hand sewed them using English Paper Piecing techniques

Once all of the individual blocks were complete, it was time to sew them all together and see the women come to life.

sewing Drunkard's Path blocks for Lift Up Quilt

quilting Lift Up

After the quilt top was assembled, it was time to make the quilt sandwich (quilt top, layer of batting and fabric backing) and baste it. I tend to use a lot of pins. I find this reduces the amount of puckers, tucks and shifting while I quilt on my domestic machine. Want to see how I pin baste? Check out my tutorial here. 
pin basting Lift Up quilt

It was then time to dig into quilting. I used my walking foot on my Juki 2010q to piece and quilt. I wanted the women to really be the star of the quilt, so I used the curves of the quilt top to guide me. By doing so, the quilt top design is emphasized. I pieced and quilted Lift Up using Aurifil 50wt cotton thread, matching the thread colors to the fabric for a total of 6 colors.
walking foot quilting Lift Up, a modern quilt by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill of Whole Circle Studio
walking foot quilting Lift Up, a modern quilt by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill of Whole Circle Studio

Curious how to quilt curved lines with a walking foot? My biggest trick—go slow! Check out this video of me quilting one of the women:

Once the women were quilted, it was time to move on to the background. I wanted to emphasize the vertical layout of this quilt and theme with the women being lifted up. I’ve been experimenting in a couple of other quilts using a dense, organic wave motif. I decided this was perfect for Lift Up. While I could have completed the background quicker if I used free motion quilting, I decided to stick with the walking foot so I could have better control over the consistency of my stitch length.

wavy lines with walking foot quilting Lift Up, a modern quilt by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill of Whole Circle Studio
Here is a video showing the process for quilting the background:

the finished quilt

A short six weeks later, Lift Up was complete, with a scrappy binding that coordinated with the colors of the women.
Lift Up, a modern quilt commissioned by the Arts Council of Greater New Haven for promotional purposes of their 38th Annual Arts Awards. Designed by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill of Whole Circle Studio. The theme was "Phenomenal Women".
scrappy binding Lift Up quilt
Unfortunately, the promotional materials needed to be printed before the quilt was complete, so my initial mockups (shown at the top of this page) were used.
Print collateral for the Arts Council of Greater New Haven Annual Arts Awards Show. Illustration, Lift Up, designed and derived by a quilt by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill, Whole Circle Studio. Awards theme: Phenomenal Women
Lift Up greeted award recipients and attendees at the Arts Council of Greater New Haven 38th Annual Arts Awards Luncheon at the beautiful New Haven Lawn Club.
Lift Up, a modern quilt commissioned by the Arts Council of Greater New Haven on display at their 38th Annual Arts Awards at the New Haven Lawn Club. Designed by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill of Whole Circle Studio. The theme was "Phenomenal Women".
Lift Up, a modern quilt commissioned by the Arts Council of Greater New Haven on display at their 38th Annual Arts Awards at the New Haven Lawn Club. Designed by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill of Whole Circle Studio. The theme was "Phenomenal Women".
It was so much fun to attend the Arts Awards. The New Haven Lawn Club was a beautiful setting, the speeches were inspiring and the lunch was delicious!
New Haven Lawn Club Ballroom

what’s next?

Lift Up is currently on display in the Arts Council offices. While it is not a gallery open to the public, visitors attending meetings at the office can enjoy Lift Up. I’m a big believer that quilts are meant to be seen, displayed and used. Both the Arts Council and I are open to ideas of ways for more people to see the quilt and are open to exploring future possibilities. This was such as rewarding project. I’m looking forward to more collaborations with other organiations, corporations and individuals in the future! Many, many thanks again to both the Arts Council of Greater New Haven and Metropolitan Interactive!

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6 Comments

    1. Hi Elizabeth, Thanks for your kind words! I haven’t considered releasing Lift Up as a pattern, but if enough quilters are interested, I’ll consider it!
      Happy holidays!
      Sheri

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