MARIYA WATERS

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The Making of Renaissance Revival

Process:

Drawn as a black and white line drawing on a computer using CorelDraw versions 7, 9 and 12.  The colour work was held in my head.

The full line drawing was then sent to the printer to create a full-scale drawing.
Each individual section was then printed in full scale to create a background template.

The shapes in each section (especially the flowers) were refined in the computer program.  All the shapes were then printed directly onto the stabiliser. The first stabiliser used was freezer paper, then soluble paper and basting glue was tested and finally soluble stabiliser was used. The shapes were cut from the stabiliser using very fine curved decoupage or manicure scissors. The freezer paper or stabiliser was applied to the reverse side of the fabric and each shape was cut with a small amount of seam allowance.

The seam allowance was then tacked into place. Each flower was then appliquéd into its final form of the quilt using my “whole unit appliqué” technique.

The background was marked with a white pen. The underlining for each shape was cut and tacked to the background.  The yellow lining shapes were then tacked into position and stitched into place leaving small sections unstitched to allow another yellow shape to be threaded underneath.  The openings were then stitched closed once all the shapes had been applied to the section and the interweaving of the over and under pattern checked for accuracy.  Finally the almost complete flowers were appliquéd into place.

Once all the sections were complete I appliquéd the blocks together so that very fine adjustments could be made. The quilt top was then machine and hand trapunto-ed using varying layers under the flowers.  Some had up to three layers of batting some two layers plus stuffing while other shapes had only one layer.  Finally the quilt was sandwiched with Matilda’s Own Cotton and Wool blend batting and pinned with about 1500 safety pins.

The appliqué shapes where then outlined with a quilting stitch. The grid work was marked up as I got to each stage using white pens. The foreground grid work was marked and stitched first in each section and then the background grid work was marked and stitched.  The quilt was then washed, blocked (stretched into shape) and bound.  Once most of the quilting had been finished I began to hand embroider (couch) using a heavy black/gold thread around all the appliqué shapes.

The block outlines were couched in a thick pale gold thread.  Once the embroidery of the front was complete I turned the quilt over and worked the main outlines in the thick gold thread so that the line drawing would be recorded in its simplest form.

Finally a label was created and a sleeve was stitched on.

Inspiration

The idea for the quilt came from seeing a ceiling panel in the Islamic Arts Museum in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.  I was totally captivated by the artistry of this multilevel gilded and painted plaster ceiling panel.  I came home with the design etched into my brain with the colours described as Moroccan leather red, dark black/green, caramel, sage green, poison green and sealing wax red.

I am totally in awe of the artisans who created designs like these with rudimentary mathematical instruments.  From my research it appears that many of the designs of the 1700’s for decorative panels for ceilings and walls were created in Italy and then taken to the Ottoman Empire.   I also have found Italian embroidery patterns with very similar shapes in them to those used in the Ottoman decorated rooms.  These decorations were usually found in Governors public rooms.

Drawing

I wanted to create the design as I saw it.  I focused on the pure design work as I could see the underlying concentric circular grids that created the shapes.

I spent a week trying to draw it on paper but only achieved the interleaving of the blocks. I was working with a black and white lining drawing as I carried the colours of each shape in my head.

I then made a decision to begin to use a computer graphics package to draw the outlines of the shapes. At first I was reading the instruction book and creating the shape but over the first couple of weeks I had learnt enough to do what I needed to do. Then I discovered that the old computer we had could not cope with the size of the designs so we had to invest in a more powerful computer. If I had read the graphics program instruction book a little further I would have found out about a lot of shortcuts and this would have reduced my design time.

Each section was saved in its own folder and I have a large number of progressively saved files.  Many of the early files have little design inspirations in them that I have played with providing more ideas for future work and I now need to go through these files a copy these new designs into a separate design file so that I can reduce the numbers of files stored on the computer.  I will keep a back up of all the design files along with left over fabrics and threads for future reference. 

I spent days working on the design with very few breaks.  When my husband Gavin was away working I would get completely lost in time.  Breakfast might be at 2pm and dinner at 2am. 

About three months into the design work I felt I had the most incredible spiritual experience of having a guiding hand while creating this design. I stopped playing with the designs and just became so focused to get this quilt design right.  I would just seem to know when each section was done and go to bed feeling peaceful and ready to begin the next major section.  Finally about six months after I began drawing the design was ready for the appliqué.

Fabrics

I bought the fabrics about 4 months into the design process.  The quilt was sized by the amount of backing fabric that was left on the bolt of a patchwork shop that was closing down in Maitland NSW.  It was also at that shop that I found a yellow fabric designed by Karen Combs that had four distinct shades printed in equal stripes vertically down the fabric.  I bought four metres of it thinking that it would be more than enough but the quilt took 16 meters of this fabric and even then I was saving any scrap larger than ½” to use in the smallest flowers.  I ran out of fabric after 15 metres and could not buy any more and my friend in Maitland provided me with the metre that she had purchased.

I also had underestimated the yardage of the dark sage green and in the end had to buy a similar fabric and bleach the colour to enable it to blend into the quilt.

Time Frame

Having completed a difficult prize winning quilt – Dance of the Butterflies – in 14 months I knew that this quilt would take me a lot longer to complete.  Therefore I allowed 3 years for the project that included the drawing of the design.  In total it has taken me 3 years and 8 months or 16,916 hours.

I knew from the beginning that I would hand appliqué the quilt with trapunto machine quilting and embroidery as an integral part of its design. It was not until I was half way through the embroidery on the front of the quilt that I decided to hand couch the gold work on the back. This “good idea” added another 5 months to the length of the project.

Appliqué

From the outset of this design of this quilt I knew that I would have to develop new techniques or extend those I already used.  Bias strips were not a viable construction option because when bias is curved sharply gathers tend to form on the inside of each shape and this was not a look that I like.  I wanted to have the freedom of using pre-formed individual shapes to assist the interweaving. 

I have always loved hand appliqué and over time have developed my own technique of “whole unit appliqué” that my students really seem to enjoy as it provides a consistency of shape using foundation papers.  I had to think outside the square and began to use soluble paper and basting glue.  My tests then showed that the white basting glue was very difficult to remove when it was caught between the narrow layers of the yellow shapes and it is not a product that I now choose to use.  During the appliqué process I moved from freezer paper to soluble paper to soluble stabilisers and glue sticks.  I now use fusible soluble stabilisers for both hand and machine appliqué.

The hand appliqué work took just over two years.

Machine Trapunto

The trapunto process took quite a bit of time, as I wanted to sculpt the flowers and used between 1 and 3 extra layers of batting and some stuffing with wool trapunto yarn within each flower.  It took 100 m of water-soluble thread to complete the trapunto.

Machine Quilting

For many of my larger quilts I quilt them in sections and then stitch them together.  Dance of the Butterflies was quilted in five sections.  It was not going to be possible to split this quilt into sections as the blocks themselves interweaved and there were some very difficult shapes to deal with.  So I had to work with a completed quilt top.  I am very fortunate in owing two sewing machines complete with two tables in which the machines are level with the tabletop. This gives me a large flexible work surface.

I tensioned one machine for the trapunto, outline quilting and stippling and the other for the grid work. One of the machines had a timer on and told me how many minutes of needle movement time versus hours that the machine was on and the other told me every 2 million stitches to oil the machine.  I originally purchased 16 boxes or 160 reels of thread but this increased to 204 reels (20,400 metres) of thread in 7 colours.

The quilt had to be well pinned to stop any movement of the trapunto and some sections I also hand basted to stop the fabric moving across the bias.

I chose very simple quilting designs for this quilt, as the quilting was just to support the appliqué design. 

The outline quilting of the appliqué was relatively easy although it is always difficult working in the very centre of a large heavy quilt.  I just scrunch the quilt top under the sewing machine, as I only need a small flat area for my right hand to rest to guide the quilt under the needle.   “Patience and working at a slow constant pace” is the best advice I can give to my students.  Rushed work tends to show up in the final quality of the quilt.

Stippling has its own problems especially in tension and the demand it places on your body and eyes.  At this point I sent one of my machines in for a service and it came back with more problems (twice) than what it had before it went in for servicing.  With the juggling of machines through a friend and the sewing machine company I managed to keep on going.  Finally I replaced both machines, which meant I had to get used to new tensions and features.

I marked the grid work for each section as required, working the foreground first and then the background.  I had problems with the larger sections as the ruler was not quite long enough and the white ink disappeared with constant handling and had to be re-marked.  I then began to mark smaller sections within the arrowhead shaped corner blocks.  The grid work was then free motion quilted using a ¼” foot that my husband modified.

Embroidery

Once I began to appliqué the quilt I had time to consider what type of thread I was going to use for the embroidery.  I approached Maderia Threads through their agent in Sydney and gave them an outline of my project and estimation of the thread I would use and Madeira Threads very kindly provided me with the embroidery thread.  This was wonderful because they allowed me to test a vast array of thread before the final thread was chosen.

I was going to outline (hand couch) all the appliqué in a variety of gold threads but gradually moved over to using a dark metallic thread that gave the interwoven shapes a bit more definition.   Several years ago I had read a book by Ginny Beyer called Color Confidence for Beginners and in it she showed some of her fabrics in colour without a dark outline and then with the dark outline around the shapes and it just made so much difference.  I had applied this process to my previous quilt but had used a darker colour to that used in the appliqué fabric and this time I wished to go even darker. 

The very pale gold thread became a highlight for the outline of the blocks/sections on the front and a focus on the reverse side of the quilt.

Final Impressions

This quilt has been a labour of love, a test of skill and patience.  I did have difficult days and in the latter part of the work it was hard to stay focused, as, like all my bigger quilts, I was seriously “over it”.  Some days I despaired that I would never ever finish the project.  My husband, Gavin, even made comment one day that “this quilt would get finished even if he had to complete it!”  We decided that was not an option because it would then become a group quilt.  Gavin then would become my quilt angel and on some days he would do the washing and was often seen doing the ironing.  My time each day stretched longer I was often working in excess of 15 hours a day.

From the time I began on this quilt I have had very few days off and those days have usually been for teaching appliqué, trapunto and machine quilting.  Two years ago I worked on a very successful charity raffle quilt. I drew the design and created the templates on the computer and with a group of wonderful friends whom I taught to “whole unit appliqué” we created a fantastic quilt.

Would I do this again?  NO!   Well maybe!!  (It is now several weeks since the quilt was finished).  It put my life on hold for almost four years but is it worth the sacrifice? Absolutely. 

I have gone back to work on my miniature quilts again and am developing a new range of classes, both by hand and machine using fusible semi-soluble stabilisers.

 

To view the photo history of making the quilt click here 

To view technical information about making the quilt click here

Click here to see close-up pictures from areas of the quilt

Click here to go to a full view of the quilt, with links to more information

 


Copyright©2008  Mariya Waters  All rights reserved  E&OE