Sunday, February 14, 2010

Two huge quilts

Last week I put two quilts into the transportation infrastructure, on their way to Germany for display this summer in “Color Improvisations,” an exhibit organized and curated by Nancy Crow. I was happy to have them out the door, but I said to my husband as I toted the box away, “there goes a year of my life.”

This exhibit, which will open in Stuttgart in July, is a very special one. Nancy invited people to make quilts, which had to be square, HUGE and spectacular. We submitted photos of the tops, and Nancy chose which ones made it to the next stage. Then we quilted them, and submitted images again for Nancy’s approval. She graciously gave us a couple of months for the final finishing details, and now everything is on its way to Europe.

Nancy is particularly interested in the quality of machine quilting, and told us to make the backs as beautiful as the fronts. We expect that some if not all of the quilts will be hung away from the wall, which if you think about it means you’re actually making two works of art, not one.

We had to swear not to show images of the quilts until the show opens, and I will honor that promise. But I don’t think I’m giving anything away if I show you what the backs of my quilts look like.

This one is called Fault Lines 3, and it’s about 74 inches square.  (The part you see in the photo is about 10 inches wide.)  The front of the quilt has many little areas demarcated by very narrow piecing lines. I didn’t want the quilting thread (which almost matched the background fabric) to cross the pieced lines (which were much lighter), so I decided I needed to quilt each area separately. Having decided this, I figured what the heck, I’d do each area in a different pattern. This turned out to be an excellent decision, as I know I would have been bored silly quilting the same thing for four weeks.

This may be the best quilting job I’ve ever done, and it shows up nicely with dark thread on a pale backing fabric. Considering how large the piece is, I found it surprisingly easy to quilt, even with the challenge of wadding up a huge package under the short arm of a home sewing machine.

By contrast, the second quilt, Crazed 8: Incarceration, about 86 inches square, was certainly the most difficult job of quilting I’ve ever done. I am happy with the result (I guess) but there were many weeks in there when I was ready to set the whole thing on fire. I wish it had not been so physically trying – don’t know if my back and shoulders would have held up better twenty years ago, or if this is just a daunting task no matter what your age and fitness. I also had many skipped stitches, had to rip out a couple of areas because of pleats in the backing, and other problems that I have repressed the memories of.  (The photo above is about actual size.)

On the plus side, I love the pattern of the quilting, which ironically is almost invisible on the front, because of the busyness of the design. I would like to do it again sometime on a whole-cloth quilt so you could see the wonderful pattern without having to go to the back.

I like to finish every art project with a formal evaluation of what I did. Bottom line on these two quilts is that I love the artistic effect of working huge, but quilting them just about killed me. I have resolved that the next time I work huge, it’s going to be in two or three panels, which I will quilt separately and sew together at the very end.


  1. Congratulations, Kathy. What a tremendous effort. The little bits you posted are tantalizing. I'd love to see the whole thing, in fact, I'd love to go to the exhibit. But, that is unlikely to happen. The quilting does look really good. The blue one reminds me of that motif you noticed on the underpass near your home. Sounds like you need a bigger machine!

  2. Good news -- there is going to be a catalog!

  3. I am very excited about seeing all the work hanging in Stuttgart. It has been a huge effort on the part of the organizers and artist and it is wonderful that there will be a catalogue and other publications to document this exhibition. It has also been wonderful to see some of the work in progress and now see it displayed in such splendid surroundings.

  4. Wow! I love the quilts that are on their way to Germany. And being a machine quilting enthusiast, I appreciate hearing about the successes and challenges you shared in getting those huge quilts machine quilted. I'm really enjoying your blog posts.

  5. I am really enjoying your blog. I discovered you recently.

  6. I want to be sure to have my own copy of that catalog. Kathy, I hope you will let us know when it's available, and how to get it. Thanks.

  7. Hi Kathleen,
    I've just discovered your blog while checking out the list Nancy had given us of the other participnats of Color Improvisations. I can only wholeheartedly agree with your comments about quilting. Though i enjoyed the challenge of the size, my back gave me some trouble by the end.
    If you're interested there are some "peeks aviable at Ginie Curtze's webside: improvisations. Go through both the English and german sides as well as the details are not identical.
    Beata (Keller-Kerchner)

  8. Hi Beata -- I hope we will meet in person at the opening. I'm dying to see everybody else's quilts! The website you gave isn't working for me but this one is

    The photos on the website are just details of the quilts, not the whole things. Obviously Nancy and Ginie want to keep everybody in suspense for a while longer.