Dare! My New Moths and Butterfly Quilt

I’ve been working on my moths and butterfly quilt for the last few weeks, and I finally finished it yesterday! Today I wanted to share not only the final result, but also the process that went into its making.

I call this quilt Dare!, and it is a tribute to anyone who ever took a stand, both big and small.

Thought Process

The idea for this quilt has been brewing in my mind for many months. It changed over time, of course, as most ideas do.

It first sprouted during my visit to the Natural History Museum in Bern, Switzerland over a year ago. There is a very large display of Lepidoptera at the museum. The moths and butterflies there are arranged neatly in rectangular glass displays, old-fashioned way. Seeing them all together, beautiful and diverse, is striking. At first, I just wanted to make a quilt to convey that beauty. The composition that formed in my mind mimicked the glass displays.

With time, however, this imaginary quilt gained more meaning. Instead of a random array of pretty butterflies, I started thinking of many moths, all dreary and the same, going in one direction, as opposed to one gorgeous, colorful butterfly going the other way. I wanted to proclaim that some things are worth being different for, standing up for, fighting for.

These can be mundane things, like opposing an illogical school rule that everyone else obeys (mom, you know what I’m talking about!), or liking and wearing colorful clothing when everyone around you wears black. In a way, this is what I do with ANY Texture: I make bright and colorful accessories even when the prevailing trends call for a lot less color, only because I like colors and think the world needs more of them. That is one reason why my butterfly is colorful and the moths aren’t.

Of course, there are more meaningful things that call for resisting trends. We each have our own list of those. Here is but one example from my own, long list: I live in Silicon Valley, where being a tech person is valued, but being an artist isn’t. I still chose to be an artist. My choice, although right for me, came with consequences and a price. It also resulted in constant pressure, sometimes explicit and sometimes less so. That is one reason why there are many moths, going in one direction, but only one butterfly, going her own way.

Then there are the really important issues. Again, we each have a personal list of those. One of the issues important to me is the global struggle for women’s rights. Signs of gender inequality are all over the place, unfortunately, even in our twenty-first century. Take the tech industry, for example, which is close to home here. Women in the tech world are still a minority, and are still payed less. Only recently, when we thought it was all behind us, there was a fresh challenge to women’s place in the tech world… Some of my good female friends are computer scientists. I wanted to tell them, my daughters and women around the world that it’s OK to be a woman and choose your own way.

The glass ceiling women are facing on all fronts has cracked a little, maybe, but is still far from breaking. You need not look further than the results of the latest elections to realize there is yet a long way to go, even here in the Western world. Things are a lot worse for women in many other parts of the globe. That is why my butterfly is female, as opposed to the male moths. She is also strong, daring, and pushing her way. She has to.

Although I’ve been planning this quilt for a while, I started working on it obsessively only recently. This happened mostly because of what I’ve been seeing in the news. Some things, you see, are SO important, that they brush everything else aside. Current events seem to assail us from all directions. Bad news are pouring in from all parts of the world. We can’t do much about natural disasters, but there is a lot we can do to fight some people’s assaults on human dignity. Each and every one of us must stand up to hatred, bigotry, prejudice, racism, antisemitism, homophobia and all other types of human narrow-mindedness and evil. We must all work together to ensure the survival of humanity and keep the planet on which we depend healthy and safe.

This is what this quilt is about. It is about having the courage to be different, to stand up to pressure, to resist. It’s about finding beauty, color and positivity amid ugliness and negativity. It’s about soaring above pettiness. Most of all, it’s about hope.

When I started planning this quilt, I was thinking of making the moths in shades of blue and the butterfly in purples and magentas, my favorite colors. But recent events changed my color pallet. They turned the moths black. And somewhat military-looking.

The Making Process

I started the quilt by selecting fabrics. I chose an increasingly brighter spectrum for the background, to indicate that there is light at the head of the tunnel, hope:

Then I selected fabrics for the moths, all in shades of black, gray and gold. The colors of authoritarianism.

I stitched the background fabrics together, then went on the internet to do some research on moths.

I didn’t know much about them, really. In my mind I had a picture of drab winged creatures, like the ones you see when you turn the lights on in the middle of the night. I wanted to see what they looked like exactly, the details of them, so that I could recreate some convincing-looking ones. It didn’t take long for me to stand corrected. Some moths, it turned out, are absolutely glorious! Some are large, beautiful creatures, prettier than many butterflies. In fact, the differences between moths and butterflies are minor. You need to be an expert to sometimes tell them apart. Thus, in my effort to fight prejudice I was confronted with some prejudices of my own!

This changed my plans somewhat. I now had to make my moths a lot nicer than I had originally intended to, and more diverse! So I sketched some out on a scrap of paper, and proceeded to cut the moths out and pin them onto the background:

I then stitched them on, both by machine and by hand, and manually embroidered some of the details:

I slowly completed eight moths:

Once that was done, I needed to turn this into a quilt by sandwiching the top to a batting and a backing:

I quilted the piece together by hand, since my machine cannot handle such a thick sandwich. It’s been a while since I completed my last upholstery quilt, and I forgot how taxing quilting thick fabrics by hand can be! Once again, I forgot to use thimbles, and boy, did I feel it later!!

The quilting was solely utilitarian. It had to hold all the layers together, not to give visual interest. Upholstery fabrics are too thick, too stiff, and too textured to enable detailed quilting… Finally, I finished by pinning the border and stitching all around:

You will note that I left one space open, for my butterfly. So now I started practicing making three-dimensional textile butterflies. That took a while, and several tries. When I finally knew how to make her, I needed to settle on a color. Purple and magenta didn’t seem to go with the blacks, grays and golds of the months. They were also too mild. I wanted something more outstanding. More DARING.

I contemplated this for a few days, comparing different colors and fabrics. In the end, I decided to go with silk, to make my butterfly more majestic. The silk’s smooth texture also stood in contrast to the moths’ mostly rough, upholstery feel. I chose a deep red for the upper wings and orange for the lower. The red seemed the most contrasting to the colors of the moths. The orange gave the creature more color, life and vitality. It also made it more conspicuous. The orange silk came from one of the fabrics I recently saved from my late mother-in-law’s estate. This made the quilt more personal, as if by doing so I was able to weave a piece of my mother in law into it…

Once finished, I sewed the butterfly onto the quilt:

And there it was, my finished quilt, a call for action, intended to empower and provide hope at the same time.

Since she’s already a part of this work, I dedicate this quilt to the memory of my late mother in law, a strong, willful woman who did things her way all the way to the end.

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