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.
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.
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):
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.
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.
Once all of the individual blocks were complete, it was time to sew them all together and see the women come to life.
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.
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.
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.
the finished quilt
A short six weeks later, Lift Up was complete, with a scrappy binding that coordinated with the colors of the women.
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.
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.
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!
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!