Friday, 18 May 2018

A Secret (kind of Japanese) Garden

This is the biggest quilt I've ever made, so it's going to be a long post :))

So huge I couldn't take a proper photo of it.

To begin with - my Mum is decorating her bedroom in a kind of Japanese style, and she chose dusty pink wallpaper for most of the room and a highly decorative and extremely busy focal wallpaper with Japanese motifs above the bed. When I suggested making a quilt for her, she said it had to be very simple and quiet, because the wallpaper is so busy. So, I didn't get to play with the beautiful Japanese patterned fabrics, but I couldn't just make it plain, either.

I chose a pink Moda Grunge for my background, and tone-on-tone warm grey for the sashing, I also smuggled in a Japanese pattern, but it's going to be on the bits that hang down on the sides, so that doesn't really count, does it? ;)) But I still needed something - some point of interest - and I remembered I had just the right thing.

When I was maybe 12-13 years old, my Mum took a machine embroidery course, and made a lot of beautiful stuff, but her final project she never finished. It's this really exquisite panel using a wide range of silk threads to create colour transitions - mind you, it was made on a very basic foot-operated sewing machine. You can see pencil lines where the flowers were left unfinished. 

Here's a close-up:

I mean, I found it hard to persuade that machine to stitch a straight line with the right tension for me.

It had been folded away for many years until I took up quilting five years ago and rummaged through Mum's fabrics to see what I could put to good use. I found this panel and took it with the other bits and pieces, and so it came to live in my stash. When I took it out on this occasion, it matched my Mood Grunge pink almost exactly, so I took it as a sign that it was meant to go into Mum's quilt. It can hardly be called Japanese, but it will work with the vibrant colour and busy pattern of the wallpaper.

So, I pieced a very simple top in just a couple of days, sandwiched it and contemplated it in awe (with panic starting to set in): How do you even begin to quilt this?

See how tiny and lonely the bird looks?

Forgot to mention - I had only two weeks left till Mum's birthday and she was coming to us for a week just then, arriving a couple of days before her birthday, so I had even less than two weeks to do the quilting. (That's also the reason I didn't post anything about it in progress - it was a Secret Project).

But I did it - with a couple of hours' quilting every morning, on the dining table, because the quilt is actually larger than the whole of my sewing room. In case you're wondering - I quilted it all on my very usual domestic machine - Janome 6260.

I started with the bird block, using a selection of my beloved YLI variegated threads to pick up the colours from the embroidery and kind of continue the design:

I made all the design decisions on the go, so I thought I might add more birds to keep it company, and thus the large blocks became kind of "pictures" too. All FMQ with very little planning.

I think they bear a slight resemblance to the Japanese/Chinese "birds and flowers" images, but if you disagree, I won't insist.  I tried to use kind of Japanese quilting patterns for the small blocks, too, but I don't know many of those.

"What if I use a different quilting pattern for each block?" I thought light-mindedly, without even counting the number of blocks in question (the answer is 42 - who could have thought!).

It was fun and games for some time, but very soon I was running out of ideas, considering that the density of quilting had to be more or less consistent, too.

I went through Pinterest again and again, searching for more suitable patterns. They didn't all turn out nice, some look really clumsy.

I also ran out of some of my threads in the process.

Some of the patterns did turn out very similar or (almost) identical to the others, which I only discovered at the end of a day's quilting when I spread the quilt out on the bed. Luckily, the side rows of patterned fabric could be all quilted with the same pattern, because you can't see it with all the flowers anyway.

Anyway, I did it, and I couldn't believe I did it when I spread it in the living room again to trim and bind.

I know a lot of people make huge quilts like that on a regular basis, but for me it was a feat, and I actually like how it turned out - very simple if you look from a distance, but with a lot of texture and subtle colour if you look up close.

I think Mum really liked it and certainly appreciated the addition of her bird to it. I hope it fits the room, but before it travels to its home, I'll be (hopefully) sending it to a quilt show here in Ireland, so Mum left it with me for the time being.

Linking up to Off the Wall Friday at Creation by Nina-Marie
Can I get a Whoop Whoop? at Confessions of a Fabric Addict
Free Motion Mavericks at Lizzy Lenard Vintage Sewing
Show iff Saturday at Sew Can She


  1. what a lovely quilt, really like the idea of the way you quilted it with all the variety overall and in some of the blocks, will give hours of pleasure as the eyes rove over it and discover and rediscover all the not quite hidden patterning that you have created. Irene from Northern Ireland

  2. It's gorgeous! It will be treasured forever.

  3. Absolutely stunning! The quilting is just so beautiful. I don't know how you did it all. mary in Az

  4. Beautiful work! Lovely free motion stitching. I'm sure this will be treasured for years and years!

  5. You did a great job with the quilting and I'm sure your Mom will love it forever! It was very clever to add her embroidered bird. I spend a lot of time searching Pinterest for quilting designs too, so I can totally relate. I think it looks fabulous!

  6. So, so beautiful! All that lovely texture and different quilting designs. And the bird blocks are so creative and wonderful! What a great idea to use your Mom's embroidered bird, and look at what that started :)

    Best of luck in the Irish show!

  7. Wonderful quilt! Fabulous quilting, especially the bird blocks.

  8. Hello Olena,

    Such a beautiful surprise for your mum! The quilting is amazing. I love the way you found so many different quilting designs to include, and used your mum's embroidery as inspiration for more birds and flowers. I have the same trouble with lack of space and only make large quilts occasionally. There is nothing like a deadline to get it finished!

    Thank you for linking up with Free Motion Mavericks. Your quilt is project of the week!

    Love, Muv

  9. Absolutely beautiful! Good luck in the quilt show - you deserve a prize for your wonderful quilting.

  10. Oh great job! I didn't realise this one was so big. Great way to use quilting!


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