Monday, 10 November 2014

The ocean was always you: a quilt refashion

My husband's cousin lost her mother to a hard battle with breast cancer a few years ago. I love and adore Renee so much, she was such a special person, and I always found her so supportive and smart, and a real pleasure to be around. I miss her, and I thank her for getting to know her (as short a time as I did), as I feel like she really opened my eyes to having an authentic and honest existence, and appreciating the beauty in the world. She is a woman to be admired and loved. So when Angelique approached me about refashioning a memory quilt for her, made from her mother's clothes, I was honoured to be able to take on this project in memory of such a great woman. 

Angelique had the original quilt made shortly after her mom passed away, wanting something beautiful that she can snuggle up with and take comfort from. The quilter made a quilt with large squares of stripes, and backed/bound it with a blue sheet. 
The original
She hated it. She didn't like the colours and the way they came together, she hated the blue sheet backing, and in hindsight, felt the size was too large. She put it away in a closet and didn't ever use it. And that isn't what you want for a memory quilt representing your mother!  So I took it home with me and percolated for a while with it. 

She wasn't thrilled with the pinks and floral patterns as part of the main quilt. And she wanted something more modern. I saw that there were lots of blacks and blues and greys and whites, and started thinking of the ocean at nighttime. Then I saw this quilt on Pinterest, and thought "Perfect!" Also, I found this poem to be very inspiring. 

Isn't that so fitting for mothers? It's true that no one is as vast and important and mysterious and beautiful as your own mother. Just like the ocean. So I kept this in mind throughout my work on this project. 

My first step was to create a draft to show Angelique for her approval. My concept was to use the black fabrics as the night sky, with the white fabrics as the moon. The blues, greys, and black/white patterns would be the ocean, and below that, the greens, browns, reds, and pinks would be the earth. 
The layout

 She liked the plan, and so began the arduous task of hand ripping stitches to take apart the quilt piece by piece.  
Annyong was "helping"
Separated and sorted
After I had the quilt in pieces, I ironed and sorted them into colour groups, then began trial layouts. 
My bed is my design board
I ended up omitting the pinks from the earth portion, they just didn't work. My plan was to incorporate them into the back. Then I sewed all the pieces together. I found this to be a real challenge, as the different types of fabrics have different degrees of stretch. After I had it all together, I learned about using stabilizers when dealing with tshirt materials. That would have been nice. I hand appliqu├ęd the moon in place after using fusible web to fix it to the quilt. We decided against incorporating stars into the night sky. I also decided to add a black border all the way around. 
The front with no border (yet)
Then I turned my attention to the back. I had all the pink fabrics left, so we decided to do a horizontal stacking coin row to liven up a black-on-black backing fabric.
The back
Great! Time to baste! I laid everything out on my dining room floor to make the quilt sandwich. Originally, we were going to reuse the sheet that had been used for backing as the stuffing, but it was too slippery, and it would have made quilting difficult due to shifting. Instead, I ended up using a thin fleece blanket to keep the weight down. At this point, I sent pictures to Angelique for final approval. She decided that she wasn't feeling having the earth portion on the quilt front, she felt like having just the sky and water was more soothing for her. I'm glad I checked in before basting! I took apart the earth from the sea, replaced the borders, and set to work basting. 
With the earth
Without the earth (and basted)
I used wavy line quilting over the ocean part with varied spacing between lines to make it look like waves in the water.
Close up of wave quilting
I used a walking foot for this, and this is the first time I have quilting using it. It sure made quilting a breeze! Until I got to the sky. When I took apart the quilt, I knew I was going to be using the black all together as the sky, so I didn't seperate each block from the panels, but left them all sewn together in long strips. This was a mistake. The previous quilter had attached old sheet pieces as a stabilizer, but left lots of excess material loose in each block. This means when it came time to quilt the sky, I ended up with huge bunching at each seam between blocks. 

This looks terrible!
At this point, I was feeling very discouraged, and contemplated telling Angelique that we had a fire and the quilt was lost. I couldn't give her a quilt that looked this terrible! I was so embarrassed that it looked so amateur. Thank goodness for a fresh set of eyes: my mother-in-law came over to see the problem and suggested handsewing over the seams to tack down the bunching. This made a world of difference!! Apparently I forgot to take an after picture though, so you will just have to take my word for it.  

Next I tried to machine quilt some modern clouds into the sky, but the thread was too skinny to show up properly. So I hand embroidered over it with a chain stitch and 6 strands of thread to make sure it really popped. 
Clouds and the moon
My last step was to hand bind the quilt with the same black as the border. I wanted the border and binding to just blend into the background, so as not to detract from the star of the show, the fabrics from the clothes. 
The finished front

The finished back
Closeup of the moon
Wrapped and ready to gift
Angelique came over yesterday for the big reveal, and I am so happy that she loves it! I shared with her the poem and my inspirations, and she shared with me the meanings that the ocean and the moon and white cotton shirts have for her and her mom. I think part of what makes this memory quilt so special, is that not only is it made with Renee's clothing, it has deeper meaning and significance in addition to beauty. Just like Renee! Angelique is excited to finally have a quilt that she can use and love, to take comfort in and share with her children. And I am so happy that I got to be a part of this project and pay tribute to an amazing woman. This project was a true labour of love, and an honour to be a part of. Renee wrote regularly on her blog Circling My Head, and I encourage everyone to have a read through to get a glimpse of what made her so special.