I've always believed that just about the only constant in life is change. This appeals to the science nerd in me, while satisfying the philosopher as well. Quilting ties in with this rather nicely. A baby comes along, we make a quilt. A wedding, a graduation, same thing. First “big bed”? Off to university? A new home? Quilts all around. Life is unpredictable, full of ups and downs, and we all must inevitably endure changes that are often not of our own choosing. Sometimes it’s just a skirmish and other times it’s all an all out campaign for survival. Quilts still contribute. Quite often, they’re made for cancer patients. Surely the love with which these are constructed has therapeutic value. And while there are no randomized controlled trials to verify the healing power of quilts, I know that it happens.
Life is long, but never long enough. We must travel through the gains and losses of the years. This “I Spy” quilt was made for my dear friend Lily after the loss of her husband. Lily is a poetic woman with more spirituality in her little finger than most of us possess in our entire cell mass! She and her husband shared a legendary love of nature and, in particular, the nature of Northern Ontario. Eventually, circumstances dictated that Lily must leave the North for another part of the province. With the loss of her husband as well, it seemed to me the most daunting of challenges. And so I sought, from a distance, to give her back a little piece of her beloved North.
Each 3 inch square is a picture of something you would find in Northern Ontario – loons, a fox, a wolf, a bear, various wild flowers, blueberries, trees – so many trees – and of course a penguin. While in nature these are strictly found in the Southern Hemisphere, the penguin is still valid, since it represents, well, me. Snow, barns, canoes, ferns, cabins – they’re all part of the fabric of our area. Books are also included, since winters here are long, and at times the comfort of an indoor retreat is compulsory. A fairy is waving around her sewing needle (guilty, yes, me again), butterflies are flitting, snowmen are cheering up wintery days. Fish, ducks, moose, the kind of thing you might encounter in your own back yard up here, they’re all posing in True North.
This quilt captured the imagination of several quilters in my guild and I was thrilled that they too made “I Spy” quilts. Someone recently asked me why they’re called “I Spy” quilts. The only answer I could come up with was that I had taken the idea from a calendar featuring quilts, and that was the name they had used. I’m not sure if this is a traditional quilt format in the way that “double wedding ring quilt” or “Dresden plate quilt” are, but it is fitting.
My Dad was fond of playing the game of “I Spy” with us when we were kids, and the whole family, adults and children, would get in on the fun. We never tire of recounting the story of the time he said “I spy with my little eye, something that starts with ‘N’”. My cousin immediately yelled out the correct answer. “Knob!”
If you should ever decide to take on the adventure of I Spy quilting, here are a few tips. Cut out more 3 1/2 inch squares than you will need so you have plenty to swap around when you lay them out. This will help you see what looks best. You can even cut a few of these as you buy new fabrics so you always have a big selection – a worthy idea, but one I've never had the discipline to execute!
Sticking with a few basic colours can make these quilts a little more restful on the eyes – but maybe that’s not the look you want. The spy’s the limit on these.
Never hesitate to use your Christmas fabrics in these quilts! This resolves several dilemmas. You get to “keep Christmas with you all through the year” (never easy) and you get to use up those Christmas fabrics that you bought fifteen years ago with no particular project in mind.
The layout of the squares in these quilts is really best done according to value, that is, how light or dark in overall tone they are. Tone trumps colour in these quilts. If some squares really stick out - perhaps the red ones - clump them together into a shape such as a heart or a square in the centre, or maybe around the edge, or in each corner. Like wild horses, they need to be corralled for their own safety and your viewing pleasure.
Lay out the squares and leave them there for a couple of days before you start sewing them together. That way you will start to notice the odd square here and there that might need to be moved to a different spot in the quilt. You can also take photos of your layout. “Sore thumb” squares show up instantly in the photo. Adjusting your photo to black and white will make these ones even more obvious.
For the border, using solid colour fabric or a transition fabric (one that changes through a range of harmonious colours) helps unify it and pull all the colours together. It also gives a calming effect to the overall look of the piece.
Also, I really like these quilt squares to puff up, so I use polyester batting, and quilt by machine in the ditch between the squares, with no additional quilting in the squares themselves. An all over pattern will just obscure the pictures.
Just as I hoped, Lily loves her True North quilt. It’s part of her healing journey, one that I know she will complete in her own way, one step at a time. To me, she is an inspiration, and a role model, and I am honoured to be a part of her life.