Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Quilt No. 103
February 2015

Say it with fabric.  I keep immersing myself in this endless quest.  And when I decided to create a quilt for my daughter’s wedding, it was never more difficult.  It needed to celebrate one of life’s key events, and to wholeheartedly welcome Lucas into our family.  It needed to depict something about them, something they could look back on in their dotage that would make them say “Remember that?”   It also needed to show that as a mother (and mother-in-law) I had at least some understanding of what they loved to do.  I didn’t want them to think that I hadn’t been listening...

Each year they plan their wilderness camping trip with great zeal, selecting the destination, amassing the equipment, working through lists of gear and food, selecting between the “must have” items and those relegated to the “wish list”.  The duration of any camping trip is far shorter than number of hours that went into planning it.  Since this is a many-months-long focus in their lives, I know how much it means to them.  After all, who doesn’t want to conquer nature with a canoe, two paddles, a food barrel, and the luxury of a single roll of toilet paper? 

Fortunately, I had lots of time to plan their wilderness camping quilt - just as well because for the first year of “planning” I came up with absolutely no ideas.  During the second year I came up with several crappy ideas, one of which had park symbol signs stationed along the border in a freakish parade.  Mercifully, that one never got off the design table.

Trying to force a creative idea invariably sends it into that slippery-pig phase where the harder you grasp at it, the more gleefully it eludes you.  In the end all you have to show for your efforts are greasy hands and remembered squeals. 

I finally quit actively thinking about it.  Likely, my subconscious continued to wring its hands over the problem, because not too long after that, I was struck by the image of a tree trunk with their initials carved inside a heart.  It seemed like something they might do, or rather, like something they would talk about doing, and then decide against in order to avoid harming a tree.

Once I had the key element everything flowed from there.  Well…I wish!  It was more of a miserly trickle, with more ideas tossed out than embraced.  I at least knew the concept of what I wanted – a lake, a canoe, an idyllic forest scene where a few animals made their home, and a campfire.  Bit by bit it came together, eventually including a picnic and their favourite bottle of wine. 

My plan was to put ferns along the bottom, and I spent a couple of painstaking hours cutting out fern-print fabric to capture the ferns without the background on which they were printed.  I arranged and rearranged ferns for weeks on end without ever even approaching a pleasing result.  By the end of my endeavours the ferns took on a flayed look, completely shredded from too much handling.  I moved on to flowers, combing through my considerable stash of fabric, auditioning every possible floral piece regardless of colour or size of flower.  It wasn’t much of a surprise to find that method yielded nothing. 

During this time period, wedding planning was going on.  It included a trip to help my daughter purchase her wedding gown.  Of course, this brought back memories of my own modest gown, and I pulled it out of the box that was hiding under a deeply satisfying layer dust.  This sparked conversations with my sister about her wedding gown, so she retrieved hers as well. 

It was pretty clear that styles have changed radically since the 1980’s when gowns were demure and covered as much of the bride as possible.  High collars and long sleeves were the trend, pretty much the opposite of today’s styles.  For my sister and me, there was no doubt in our minds that no one would ever want to wear those completely outdated wedding gowns again.  But that didn’t mean that they were of no further value.  Both gowns had flowered lace in just the right scale to use on the quilt. 

I remove some pieces and started “testing” it.  The lace readily accepted Pebeo Setacolor fabric paint, and was easily transformed.  I made orange flowers from my dress, and orange-pink flowers from my sister’s dress.  Hers also had lace in the shape of leaves, and this I painted green.  The bluebells readily exchanged their bland white existence for one of vibrant blue.

The tree has only a few tender young leaves.  It is at the beginning of its life’s journey.  I removed the sash from my wedding gown and dyed it green.  The synthetic fabric slurped up the paint with gusto, and was relatively easy to use to make appliqu├ęd leaves.  A little silver metallic thread machine quilting gave them the dazzle they deserved. 

I still needed to add the bride and groom into their own personal camping-quilt experience.  Luckily I had one photo of them paddling a canoe.  Since I am not generally on the invitation list for their camping trips (no one wants to portage a canoe, numerous backpacks, food, paddles and one mother) I felt quite fortunate to have snapped a photo several years ago at our cottage. I printed out the photo of them in a canoe, and fused it onto the quilt. 

I hope that this quilt will always hold true for them, and that they will always paddle together through all the sunny days and the inevitable sorrowful days that will build the fabric of their lives.