Raizl is about to have her bat mitzvah. She’s a fun and funky thirteen year old, and she’s done some odd jobs for us, like watering our plants when we’ve been out of town. She’s a very polite girl, and she’s starting to come into her own. When her mother approached me about making a quilt for her bat mitzvah gift, I was slightly overwhelmed, particularly when I found out that Raizl had asked for it specifically. Not just a quilt, but one made by me.
When C (her mother) and I met to discuss it, we spoke a bit about size and price, and the kind of quilt Raizl would like. I was pleased that a wallhanging was desired, since that is what I am most comfortable with. Traditional block-based quilts are not what I am used to making, so I began to relax a bit. We then went on to discuss color and theme. C mentioned the color scheme of the other quilt Raizl has (her baby quilt), and how some of the same colors would be incorporated into the invitations to the event, which have a stylized striped prayer shawl on their border. These were suggestions to me, and as C said, I had free reign to interpret them. I liked the idea of incorporating symbolic textiles, but I wasn’t sure what direction to take them in.
I spent a month or two mulling these ideas in my head, as I tried to figure out how to match the colors and subject with the girl I know. I decided I needed to talk to Raizl herself, and take a few pictures, to see what became of it. Raizl and her parents have two dogs (a dachsund, and a Boston terrier). She’s also a swimmer (much like my niece, K, who’s of similar age), and she plays the cello. I took pictures of her swim trophy from this year (Most Improved), her dogs, Raizl with the cello, and with a large fluffy scarf, to see if any of these things would suggest good quilt images.
My next step is what I learned from Ruth B. McDowell, an amazing quilt artist from Massachusetts, and also an MIT grad, for trivia fans. Not only do I love the way she works, I love that she can explain technical details of piecing clearly in print.
The next step is to alter the picture to make it pieceable. I decided that it would be best, given my time constraints, to make this image with straight seam piecing, since they are quicker to put together than curved seams. I used another layer of tracing paper over the image, and used a ruler to simplify the main lines of the image, and divide the image into sections that are pieceable. For more details on how this is done, refer to one of Ruth’s books, which can explain it much better than I ever could.
After determining the pieceing lines, it’s time to make templates. Using freezer paper shiny side up, I duplicated the lines from the tracing paper onto the freezer paper with a fine tip Sharpie marker.
After tracing the design lines, I labeled the pieces on the rough side of the paper with a pencil. This is also the time to mark any connection points or lines to match pieces together. I labeled the pieces with letters, to represent the features of the picture (one letter for background, one letter for skin, one letter for shirt, one letter for sleeves, one letter for the wood part of the cello, etc.) before cutting the templates apart. I also marked major sections on the original tracing for piecing sections. Then I cut the templates apart.
Next came the most creative part of the process- auditioning the fabrics for each piece, before sewing them together. This is a major reason I love this technique for piecing, besides the fact that you are assured to get an accurately sized top when it’s all together!
I ironed the template pieces to fabric, and added seam allowance around the template with a small rotary cutter, and then pin the fabric to its position on the original tracing, which I have placed on a piece of foam core. After I’ve selected fabrics, I look at the piece through my color filters (clear red plexiglass and clear green plexiglass) to make sure the values are correct, in case I want to make adjustments. There’s a little waste if I have to recut a piece to get the right colors to come forward or move back visually, but it’s a small amount, considering the size of the pieces, and the advantages of auditioning more than one possibility.
Once I have all the fabrics selected, pieces cut, and pinned to the foamcore, I start sewing the pieces together. With straight seams, I can usually leave the freezer paper in place, which adds some stability, and visual cues of what goes together.
After I sew a section, I pin it back on the foamcore, mostly to show the progress, partly to make sure I’m not missing something. Again, this process is easier with straight seam piecing than curved, because the pieces fit together quite easily. This had eight or nine major sections, with the neck of the cello being the divider down the middle. Once the sections were together, I sewed the left side to the neck of the cello, and the right side to the neck of the cello, and the top was togther.
At this point, I had very little to trim to square this up. I could have finished this without borders, which I often do for pictorial quilts, but in this case, I wanted to incorporate a reference to the striped prayer shawl, and have a few more colors that C had mentioned in the piece. I had pieced together some stripes of different fabrics earlier, before I had decided on using the cello picture, and it worked out well to cut those stripes into sections for a border.
With the borders, the piece is about 22 x 25.
Here are a couple of detail shots of the hands and face to show the piecing.
Now I’m planning the quilting. I’m likely to quilt in the strings of the cello, but I’m not sure about much else. With the deadline looming, I’m likely to stipple the background, and keep the quilting of Raizl and the cello fairly minimal, so that they come forward visually.
And I’m always willing to listen to reader opinions.