In August I signed up for a contest that offered a free 8 ½ x 11” sheet of a new product (new to me anyway) to anyone who would use it to create any one of a long list of possibilities and then send in a photo of the project by Sept. 4. It took paint well, did not fray when you cut it, and held its shape better than cotton. But it could also be put through an inkjet printer so that you could print on it from your computer, and this was the use that caught my eye. I had been thinking about doing more experimenting with using photos in my quilts, not as memory quilts, where the entire photo becomes a block, but as a more integral part of the design, and, although I am partial to natural fibers, I thought perhaps this might be a preferred alternative to treated fabric sheets. I also had the idea of slicing the photo up into strips, some narrow (that shape-holding quality would be important here) and I could narrow the seam allowances without any fraying.
So my 8 ½ x 11” sheet arrived and as the deadline approached, I scrambled to clear some time to work on the project. First of all, I needed a photo: an old magnificent sugar maple that everyone sees just before they turn into our driveway would be a great subject. I spent some time taking photos, chose one I liked best, stuck the sheet in the printer, and nothing happened. I tried again, but the sheet was too thick to make it through. After trying a number of other ways and muttering a number of words equally unprintable, I enlisted my husband’s help, who loves a good technical challenge, but he was quickly frustrated. Finally the next morning we discovered a way to get it through—the printer was not damaged either—only to find the print quality to be so faded and blurry as to be totally unacceptable.
After a few deep breaths I chalked this up to experience. Trying new things means learning from the outcome whether it’s positive or negative, and besides, I made some discoveries about our printer that will prove useful at some point. But I still liked the idea I had for the project so I grabbed a sheet of pretreated cotton, printed the photo, and got to work.
Since the tree is like a torch in the fall, glowing either gold or red depending on the weather conditions, I chose an orangey-gold that I had hand-dyed, but thought a one color background might be too static —and besides I only had a small piece of the gold—so I matched it with a strong red that seemed the color that sometimes the whole tree would turn or at least the edges of some of the leaves.
After slicing up a paper version of the photo, I got up the courage to make the cuts on the fabric photo, lined them up, and realized again that a straight horizontal line-up was static and that curving the pieces gave a better feeling of the nurturing, shading presence of this tree. I also lowered the horizon line so that it was not in the center of the picture. And so I cut, measuring carefully, since I knew I had such limited gold that a wrong cut would result in more unprintable words. But the tension kept me accurate and I made it through.
I quilted the seam lines—an easy and obvious choice but spent some days looking at it and thinking about what else to do. Improving my free motion quilting is one of my goals and so I knew I had to force myself to do some here. Finally the maple leaf came to me and I surrounded the photo strips with a red and gold outline of a leaf, then added rays in the gold since the tree glows in autumn as if lit within and did some free motion meanders in the red.
I wanted the binding to integrate the three colors, red, green, and gold and also be a bit off center to move the eye around the quilt. So I added the green that hopefully adds some balanced asymmetry.
Finished Oct. 19, 2009