Thursday, April 3, 2014

From the archives -- River Maps

The same show that prompted me to unearth my Actuary's Map quilts called forth another series of map quilts, which I call River Maps.  I was experimenting with a new technique, affixing tiny bits of fabric to a quilt sandwich with a grid of stitching.  The first one I made was low-tech.  As I recall, I drew a grid of dots a half-inch apart, started stitching along the lines, and stuck a little bit of fabric (just under 1/2 inch square) at each dot with a tweezers so I could sew over it.

River Map 1: Jefferson County, 13 x 20", 2004, detail below

As you might imagine, this was time-consuming.  At each intersection I had to consult my diagram, find a piece of fabric the right color, put it in place, then hope it didn't blow, levitate or get pushed out of position before it got sewed down.  I decided I liked the process but it had to be streamlined in some way before I could do it again.

My next plan was to fuse the little bits of fabric to the backing fabric before I stitched.  But since I liked the effect with the edges of fabric fluttering in the breeze, I didn't want to simply slap fusible on the back of a big piece of fabric, then cut the little squares from it.  Instead, I cut tiny bits of fusible web, fused them to the center of the little bits of fabric, then fused the bits to the backing.

This turned out not only to be fiddly beyond belief, but very difficult.  I would lay out the squares onto the backing and try to fuse them down, but static electricity caused them to leap out of place and stick to one another instead of just lying there waiting to be ironed.  I tried spraying a teflon pressing sheet with Static Guard and putting that on top, but it helped only a little.  After I did a bit of the second quilt, I abandoned that idea.

River Map 3: The End of the Ohio, 20 x 29", 2004

Eventually I decided to glue each little fabric bit in place.  Again, I marked a grid on the backing fabric, put a drop of Elmer's Glue on each intersection with a toothpick applicator, then picked up each little square with a tweezers and pasted it in its place.  That worked pretty well, although a few pieces came unglued and went AWOL before they got sewed down.

The only problem was that it took forever.  After I made the River Map quilts I used the technique on a huge piece with over 8,000 little squares.  It took weeks of work to get the squares glued.  I would go into my studio in the morning, put on some nice music, and disappear into a zen state until it got dark.  My husband was away someplace and so I was not disturbed by suggestions that we should eat lunch or dinner.  I would glue squares for eight hours straight and realize that I had only done six inches or so.  The next day was more of the same.

I loved the effect but not the work, so the River Map series ended at three.  Too bad -- they were pretty flashy.


  1. That's the kind of craziness only a quilter understands! You are right, they are flashy, and beautiful. I'd be thinking, too, that there must be an easier way, but sometimes there just isn't.

  2. What a lot of work - but what fabulous results! Thanks for sharing!

  3. These are gorgeous. Love the process story. You've made something no one else will copy!

  4. Resurrect this process! Try it with Pellon 820 Quilter's Grid No association, just think you're an ideal candidate to use it effectively and beautifully.

    1. looks like a neat product -- I have some pellon with a grid on one of my design walls, which makes it really easy to get straight edges if necessary.

      but not sure it would work for these quilts -- still don't want to fuse down the entire square out to the edges, just keep it in place to sew. I like the dimensional effect of the little bits of fabric lifting up from the backing. Also the grid would show through between the little squares.

      But maybe there's something else I could do with that kind of backing. I'm a sucker for grids.

    2. What if you stitch your colorful bits onto a background square first then fuse. Get your flutter and fuse too. Then piece background along your grid lines so it won't show. See how at

  5. These are really gorgeous! I can sympathize with the painfulness of assembly. I've done a couple of mosaic quilts (in which the pieces were about the same size as yours but completely covered in fusible), and even that took just forever and ever. I really love the fluttery edges too though, they add such depth to your piece that's lost if you fuse down the whole thing.

  6. I especially love the close up view of those tiny pieces so carefully placed and stitched - definitely worth the trials!

  7. It might have taken longer than you thought it would. I might have taken longer than you wanted it to. It is a terrific effect, and worth the time spent.
    LeeAnna Paylor

  8. Very painterly. And I love the mosaic look the background has below the irregularly cut squares. If anyone can do minutiae, it's you, Kathy!